February is American Heart Month, a great opportunity to look closely at your own heart health and ways it can be improved. Heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death in the U.S. in both men and women, affecting all genders, races, ethnicities, and income levels.
However, obesity puts individuals at increased risk for heart disease. It can change your cholesterol levels, increase your blood pressure, and lead to diabetes. It is also not uncommon to have more than one of these health conditions at the same time. This is why it is important to be proactive with your heart health and know your numbers.
Heart Health Numbers You Should Know
According to the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “High blood pressure is a disease that develops when blood flows through your arteries at a higher-than-normal pressure. Your blood pressure is made up of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Systolic pressure is the pressure when ventricles pump blood out of the heart. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats when the heart is filling with blood. For most adults, a healthy blood pressure is usually less than 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury, which is written as your systolic pressure over your diastolic pressure reading – 120/80 mm Hg.”
It is important to check your blood pressure regularly because high blood pressure generally does not cause symptoms. You can get your numbers checked by either seeing a healthcare provider or using a home tracker. The NIH provides a useful blood pressure tracker and a wallet card to help you keep track of your numbers.
Blood cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your liver. Your body makes all it needs to build cells, make hormones and digest food. However, dietary cholesterol that comes from foods such as meat, seafood, dairy and eggs is extra cholesterol, and too much of it can increase your risk for heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults age 20 or older should have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. If you are at high risk for heart disease, you may want to check it more often. Cholesterol is easily measured by a lipid profile or lipid panel, a blood test that will give you results for your HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides and total blood cholesterol.
Ideal Cholesterol Levels:
- Total Cholesterol: less than 170 mg/dL
- LDL “Bad” Cholesterol: less than 100 mg/dL
- HDL “Good” Cholesterol: 40 mg/dL or higher
- Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL
Blood sugar is the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood. It is measured with an HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin) test, which gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past two to three months. Having high blood sugar increases your risk of diabetes, which can damage your arteries.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “A blood sugar level less than 140 mg/dL is normal. A reading of more than 200 mg/dL after two hours indicates diabetes. A reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.
More Resources for Heart Health
For more ways to take action during American Heart Month and resources that can help you improve your own heart health, click here for information from the NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign, also has heart-health focused resource articles: