Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, claiming a life every 37 seconds. While this statistic is staggering, studies still show that many remain unaware of their personal risk factors. Learning to recognize and monitor the factors that can contribute to heart disease is a step that everyone can take to counter this alarming epidemic.
Take control of your heart health by familiarizing yourself with these important numbers:
Cholesterol (200 mg/dl) – This fat-like substance is found in the blood cells. Your body does need some cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much cholesterol can start to build up in your arteries. This buildup restricts blood flow throughout the body, putting you at a greater risk for heart attack and stroke. For adults, a cholesterol level above 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter of blood) is considered borderline high, and levels above 240 mg/dl are considered high risk. Choosing foods with good fats, like olive oil, nuts, or fish, and getting regular exercise can help you control your body’s cholesterol levels.
Triglycerides (less than 150 mg/dl) – When you eat, excess calories that your body does not use right away are converted to triglycerides, a type of fat cell stored in the body tissue. High triglyceride levels are usually the result of consuming more calories than the body is able to burn. Having a high triglyceride level, which is anything above 150 ml/dl, is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. In addition to eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, there are some other simple ways to keep their triglyceride levels in check.
Blood Pressure (120/80) – You probably have your blood pressure checked at every doctor’s appointment, but do you know what it means? Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood against the arterial walls, and it is measured in two parts:
Systolic, or “active” – the rate that heart pumps blood throughout the body
Diastolic, or “resting” – the rate of blood flow as the heart rests between beats
Healthy adults should have a blood pressure of around 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. Having a higher blood pressure increases the amount of stress on the body and the heart in particular, and, over time, can contribute to fatty buildup in the arteries, heart attack, or even heart failure.
Blood Sugar (100 mg/dl) – Blood sugar measures the amount of glucose in your blood. This cardiac measure is especially important for those with diabetes, as heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for people with diabetes. A healthy blood sugar level is one that is 100 mg/dl or lower. Lowering your blood sugar can be as easy as making some simple changes to your diet.
Take a Proactive Approach to Heart Health
Reducing your risk of heart disease starts with understanding all of the key factors that contribute to it. Knowing how, when, and where to monitor your cardiovascular health numbers is imperative to keeping your heart healthy for a lifetime.
Adults over the age of 20 should have a general physical exam as well as a blood pressure screening at least once every year. Additionally, blood sugar, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels should be monitored by your primary care physician at least once every three to five years. Adults over the age of 50 may need to monitor these cardiovascular numbers more often, especially if they also have a comorbid condition like hypertension or diabetes.
Knowing your numbers is the best way to lower your personal risk for cardiovascular disease. While some of these measurements can be taken at home, it is still important to have regular conversations about heart health with your primary care provider as well.