Know Your Numbers

Know Your Numbers…it could save your life!

 Are you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases? How would you know? Thankfully there is a system of “numbers” we can use to tell us how we are doing. By knowing your numbers, you can take action to make positive changes that will help prevent the onset of chronic health conditions. Some of the numbers that are important for you to know are:

Blood Pressure – This is one of the strongest markers for heart disease risk. It is measured as two numbers. Systolic pressure is the first number and is the pressure when the heart is contracting. Diastolic is the second number and is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. Optimal blood pressure is 120 mmHg / 80mmHg or below. High blood pressure is systolic blood pressure at or above 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure at or above 90 mmHg.

Cholesterol Levels – Too much bad cholesterol can lead to a hardening of your arteries. This can put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Health Canada suggests the following as guidelines for cholesterol levels for adults:

  • Total cholesterol: less than 5.2 mmol/L is ideal and more than 6.2 mmol/L is considered high.
  • HDL cholesterol: more than 0.9 mmol/L is desirable.
  • LDL cholesterol: less than 3.5 mmol/L is considered ideal and more than 4.0 mmol/L is high.

Blood Sugar – A blood sugar test is commonly used to diagnose the presence of diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic, often debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. This leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. A fasting blood sugar (taken when you haven’t eaten for 12 hours) should be between 4.0 mmol/L and 6.0 mmol/L.

Body Mass Index (BMI) – This is calculated from two other numbers that you probably know – your weight and height. Your BMI will be one way to gauge if you are classified as being overweight. However, it is not a perfect measure. In people with above normal muscle mass, like bodybuilders, the BMI may indicate the individual is overweight when they are in great condition. For most of us, however, BMI is a good way to gauge how our weight compares to recommended levels. To calculate your BMI, simply divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared ( meters2 ). Normal BMI is below 25.

Waist circumference — A high waist circumference indicates a greater level of abdominal fat which is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. According to Health Canada a waist circumference at or above 102 cm (40 in.) for men, and 88 cm (35 in.) for women, is associated with an increased risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The cut-off points are approximate, so a waist circumference just below these values should also be taken seriously.

Some risk for these diseases are inherited from your family. But the majority of chronic disease risk is in the lifestyle we lead – specifically linked to smoking, poor diet and an inactive lifestyle.