Updated Oct. 1, 2007 – We use numbers in our lives in a million ways. Numbers measure time, size and distance, and enable us to know directions and targets. They also give us clues to our health.
You can get your numbers from simple tests performed by your healthcare provider. Here are some numbers you should know. Check them against the "Table of Healthy Numbers" to find out how you stack up when comparing your numbers to what’s really healthy:
1. Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI measures how much of your body is made of fat, or, what the Centers for Disease Control calls body fatness. Let’s say that, for your height, there is a certain amount of weight that is associated with good health. The equation, called the “body mass index,” or BMI, gives a set of numbers that will let you know where you stand. Check the chart to see what BMI is healthiest for you. Here’s how to calculate your own BMI:
BMI = Weight (pounds) x703
height squared (inches)
For example, for someone who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds, the calculation would look like this:
BMI = 220 x703
67 inchesx 67 inches =
BMI = 34.45
A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a person with a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
2. Waist Circumference
Simply use a tape measure to measure around your waist. Higher numbers are associated with more fat around the middle and are an indication of increased risk for insulin resistance and other diseases.
3. Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of force in which the blood flows through the vessels. When blood pressure is high, it can cause damage to the kidney, heart and blood vessels. If left untreated, it could lead to heart disease or stroke.
The numbers for blood pressure are given as systolic (top number) over diastolic (bottom number). Systolic pressure is the force that is against your blood vessels after the heart has just pumped the blood (and the heart is contracting). The diastolic pressure is the force on your blood vessels between heartbeats when the heart is relaxed. For good health, it’s desirable that both these numbers are within the target range.
Think of cholesterol as a type of fat that is essential for the body. But, like all good things, you shouldn’t have too much. A cholesterol level that is in a higher-than-normal range can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.
Cholesterol is transported through the blood in packages called lipoproteins. Imagine cholesterol as passengers in cars along a busy avenue and that the different types of cars are the carriers, or lipoproteins. If there are too many mid-sized cars, they create hazards on the roads (flying hubcaps, pollution); these would be called “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). Lots of sleek, fuel-efficient cars are desirable, and these are be high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) — also known as “good” cholesterol. Your total cholesterol should be under 200 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter, the traditional unit of measuring blood sugar levels). But, more importantly, you want your LDL cholesterol to be under 100, since it is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. Like LDL cholesterol, high levels are associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
6. Blood Glucose (also referred to as blood sugar)
The simplest and most direct measurement to tell if one has diabetes is the blood glucose level. This is the level of glucose that is circulating in your blood. There are desirable ranges for your blood glucose if you haven’t eaten for several hours (fasting) or if your last meal was more recent. When things are normal in the body, blood glucose will generally stay in a very tight range of 70–100 mg/dl. If it is higher than normal, a health care provider can determine whether it suggests decreasing insulin sensitivity or production or whether there is some other reason. You may have heard of the term “pre-diabetes.” This is a new guideline that’s like a tap on the shoulder to get a person to take action and try to prevent diabetes.
7. Hemoglobin A1c
This one is a mouthful. It’s a number that expresses the average blood glucose level over the past three months. Glucose has a strong attraction (an undying puppy love) for protein — and hemoglobin, which is in the blood, is a protein. Whatever glucose is in the blood will bind itself to hemoglobin. If the Hemoglobin A1c is higher than normal, it’s a signal that the blood glucose level has been higher than normal.
Think of all of these numbers as guides and goals that can help you increase the numbers of years you on the far end of your life. Click here for more on how to improve your numbers or whether there is cause for concern.
The numbers are calculated for adults. For specific guidelines for children, check with your medical professional.