“When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou said it, and regardless of context, it always seems applicable. When it comes to heart health, knowledge comes from understanding your own risk for heart disease and heart-related health complications, and the “do better” comes from taking that knowledge and using it to combat heart health risks head on. In short, when you understand your heart’s risk, you can protect it. So, how can you determine exactly what your risk level is? Well, there are a few factors, but let’s start with the basics: your numbers.
There are four big numbers that are strong indicators of heart health problems to come. Here is the breakdown, along with what numbers you should be shooting for.
Cholesterol and Heart Health
High cholesterol is not only a major indicator of potential heart problems to come, but it is also controllable. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol. When levels of LDL are too high, plaque can slowly begin to build inside the walls of the arteries, leading to potential blockages and greatly increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Optimal levels of LDL cholesterol are under 100. A healthy diet and exercise go a long way to keeping cholesterol in check, as can prescription medications when necessary.
Blood Pressure and Hearth Health
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a silent killer. It has no symptoms and is easily overlooked by patients, but it greatly increases the risk of heart disease over time, as it damages arteries and forces the heart to work harder than normal. Determining your blood pressure involves two numbers:
Systolic - The top number in a blood pressure reading indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. Ideally, this number is under 120.
Diastolic – The bottom number in a blood pressure reading indicates the pressure in the arteries in between beats. Ideally, this number is under 80.
If these numbers are in an unhealthy range, treatment can include diet and lifestyle changes, weight loss, and medication.
Blood Sugar and Heart Health
High blood sugar, or blood glucose, is associated with diabetes, a disease in which the body is either unable to adequately produce insulin or is unable to use insulin effectively. There are many complications associated with diabetes, and one of these is an increased risk of heart disease. This risk can be so high, in fact, that it has its own classification: diabetic heart disease (DHD). The types of heart diseases commonly associated with DHD include heart failure, coronary heart disease, and diabetic cardiomyopathy.
Normal, healthy blood sugar levels vary based on how recently you have eaten. Typically, blood sugar levels before eating should be under 100, and levels taken two hours after meals should be under 140. If your blood sugar is deemed too high, treatment may include diet changes, exercise, and insulin, depending on your diagnosis.
BMI and Heart Health
Being overweight increases your risk for a number of diseases, not just those directly related to the heart. When the body carries too much weight, everything must work harder to accomplish intended tasks. Body mass index (BMI) calculates your body fat based on height and weight, and it is a strong indicator of overall health. A higher BMI comes with a higher likelihood of all of the previously listed factors: heart disease, hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, and stroke.
Normal BMI numbers range from 18.5 – 24.9% (calculate your BMI here). Anything above that range is considered overweight and a potential health threat. Lower your BMI by losing weight through nutritious diet and regular exercise.
With heart disease accounting for 25% of deaths in our state, Cardiovascular Institute of the South understands the great importance of education and Louisiana heart health. There are many factors that can determine your individual heart health risk, but the numbers listed above are a good place to start. Keep these numbers in a healthy range, and you are already ahead in the heart health game.