Health Numbers to Live By
120/80 or less
Blood pressure is the force of the blood in the arteries as it is pumped around the body by the heart. The first number, which is always higher, is the force measured each time the heart beats. This is called the systolic blood pressure. The lower number indicates the pressure as the heart relaxes before the next beat. This is called the diastolic blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your arteries and heart, which may lead to heart attacks and strokes. Often, individuals experience no symptoms, which is why high blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer”.
When to check?
If your blood pressure is ‘normal’ and you have no other risk factors for heart disease such as family history of high blood pressure, a check every two years during routine visits to your doctor is recommended. If your blood pressure is ‘high’, or if you have other risk factors for heart disease or a family history of high blood pressure or stroke, it is best to have it checked more frequently. Ask your doctor for advice.
TOP TIP: To lower your numbers, aim for a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean protein sources. Cut down on salty foods and alcohol, manage stress, don’t smoke and get plenty of regular daily physical activity.
5.5 or less
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is found naturally in the body. It’s also found in some foods, mainly animal products such as offal, fatty meats, full fat dairy products and egg yolks. When we measure cholesterol and blood fats, we’re really talking about four different numbers: total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. A total cholesterol of less than 5.5 is considered healthy.
2 or less
LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol which circulates in the blood, can slowly build up and clog the arteries. Too much bad cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease because it can form plaque – a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, a heart attack or stroke can result.
1 or more
HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol which cruises the bloodstream, removes harmful bad cholesterol. High HDL levels reduce the risk of heart disease, but low levels increase it.
1.5 or less
Triglycerides, a type of dietary fat, are the main form of fat stored in the body. Once digested, triglycerides circulate in the blood and are used for energy, while excess calories are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells to be used later. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides, which have been linked to increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.
TOP TIP: The best way to obtain healthy blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides is to replace foods containing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Swap butter for margarine or avocado, crisps for unsalted nuts, processed meat for lean protein sources and eat a fibre-rich diet including fruit and oat-based breads and cereals.
When to check?
The Heart Foundation recommends regular blood-cholesterol tests from age 45, or sooner for smokers, those with high blood pressure or those with a family history of heart disease.
5.5 or less
Glucose, the sugar stored in your blood as the body’s main source of energy, comes from the carbohydrate foods we eat, such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals, fruits, milk and starchy vegetables. High blood sugar can indicate diabetes. Left untreated, lifestyle-related diabetes (type 2) can also lead to heart or kidney failure.
When to check?
If your weight or family history put you in a high-risk category, it’s important to have your blood-sugar levels tested regularly.
TOP TIP: You can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes through a healthy lifestyle. Change your diet by replacing refined carbohydrates with low-glycemic carbs, increase your level of physical activity and maintain a healthy weight.