Five Important Numbers You Should Know

Are you an active participant when it comes to caring for your health? Knowing your numbers is one way to monitor your health and get yourself headed down the road to a healthier and happier life.

1. Keep Track of Your Weight

More than 65 percent of adults in the United States are considered overweight or obese. Carrying extra weight can put you at risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease and even some forms of cancer.

“Taking your weight is the easiest measurement you can do,” says Nimret Dev, D.O., a family practitioner at the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Fairfield. “Just get on a scale at your doctor’s office or at home and keep track of the number. Your weight is an excellent way to judge your overall health.”

You can use your weight and height to figure out your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This measures your weight in relation to your height, and is closely associated with measurements of body fat. The BMI formula is your weight (in pounds) multiplied by 703, divided by your height (in inches) squared. Or, there are several Web sites that will calculate your BMI, including www.bmi-calculator.net. A BMI number of 25 is considered normal weight and a score of 30 or over is considered obese.

2. Know Your Fasting Blood Sugar

Testing the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood after fasting (not eating or drinking) for eight hours is the best way to diagnose “pre-diabetes” and diabetes, a chronic disease that can lead to major health problems. Your blood can be collected by a finger stick or through a basic blood test done at a lab. This test is routinely part of a yearly physical exam.

“Everyone should know their blood sugar number, especially if you are at risk of developing diabetes,” says endocrinologist Deborah Murray, M.D., of the NorthBay Center for Endocrinology and Diabetes. Risk factors for diabetes include family history, obesity, gestational diabetes or giving birth to a large baby.

“Many people with high blood sugar have no symptoms,” Dr. Murray adds. “For others, it’s only after diagnosis and treatment that they realize their nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue, cognitive dysfunction or vaginal yeast infections, were related to elevated glucose.” A blood test called Hgb A1C has recently been approved to diagnose diabetes. This test indicates your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. This test doesn’t require fasting, so it may become the test of choice to identify blood sugar levels.

For people without diabetes, fasting blood sugar levels should be between 70 and 100 mg/dl. A fasting blood sugar level between 100 and 125 is considered pre-diabetes, and a score of 126 or higher on two separate tests indicates a diagnosis of diabetes.

For a complete discussion on diabetes, please see the related story on page 12.

3. Record Your Waist Measurement

Measuring your waist is a simple way to predict your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. A large waist measurement can even predict a shorter life span. Studies have shown that abdominal obesity (the traditional apple shape, beer belly or “spare tire”) is much more dangerous to your health than fat stored in the hips and thighs. That’s because abdominal fat begins inside your body, around your organs, while fat stored in the hips and thighs tends to be right under the skin.

Abdominal fat is much more active than fat stored elsewhere on your body. Women should have a waist measurement of 35 inches or less, while men should measure 40 inches or less. “Measuring your waist is another tool to help you learn about your health,” advises Michelle Katzaroff, D.O., of the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Vacaville.

To measure your waist, find your natural waistline, which is below the ribcage and above your hipbones. Use a cloth tape to get the most accurate measurement. If your waist is the same size as your hips or larger, it will be hard to find. Drop your arms at your side and take the measurement where your elbow hits your body.

4. Know Your Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like, waxy substance found in the bloodstream and in all of the body’s cells. However, too much cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly beginning between age 30 and 35, according to Lara Charneco, M.D., an internal medicine physician at the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Green Valley.

Cholesterol is tested by taking a small sample of your blood and sending it to a lab for analysis. The desirable level for total cholesterol is a number below 200; and high cholesterol is a score of 240 or more. Cholesterol is also broken down into high density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low density lipoproteins (LDLs). HDL is considered the healthy cholesterol, and men should have a number of 40 or more, while premenopausal women should have a number greater than 46.

Regular aerobic exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a diet low in animal fats (except fish, which improves cholesterol) are the best ways to control your cholesterol. When healthy options fail, your physician may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication.

5. Know Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. It’s often called the “silent killer” because unless you measure it regularly, chances are you won’t know when it gets too high.

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. They are usually written one above the other, such as 120/80. The top number is the systolic pressure, which indicates the pressure when your heart pumps. The diastolic pressure indicates your heart at rest.

“Adults should check their blood pressure once a month and write it down in a notebook,” says internal medicine physician Dinesh Nagar, M.D., of the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Fairfield. You can find testing machines at local pharmacies or you can visit the NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center’s blood pressure station at Westfield Solano mall. “By keeping a log of your blood pressure, you’ll be able to recognize changes that might be health warnings.”

Blood pressure is considered normal if the reading is 120/80 or lower. A reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high blood pressure and numbers between these two are considered pre-hypertension. Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious problems, including stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure.

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