Know Your Numbers – 5 Health Numbers You Should Know

A lot of numbers are thrown at you during a medical checkup. If you’ve ever wondered what a healthy range really means, I want you to be aware of five numbers that matter.

Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, 80 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure. Healthy blood pressure can help protect you from heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

These blood pressure goals are recommended for adults who aren’t pregnant and don’t have heart failure.

 If you are:

 Your target blood pressure is:

18-59 years old; or over 60 and have diabetes or certain types of kidney problems

Below 140/90. High blood pressure may be diagnosed following two readings higher than this rate

Over 60 and don’t have diabetes or certain types of kidney problems

 Below 150/90


Lifestyle decisions can help you achieve healthy blood pressure. These include:

Staying at a healthy weight or losing extra weight.

Eating heart healthy foods like fish, almonds or walnuts, berries, flaxseed, dark beans, spinach and tomatoes.

Limiting sodium. This means more than no longer using table salt. Check the labels when you shop. Up to 75 percent of the sodium we consume is hidden in processed foods. Look for the words “soda” and “sodium” and the symbol “Na” on labels. These words indicate that sodium compounds are present.

Exercising regularly. Shoot for at least 30 minutes, three times per week.

Limiting alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.



 A healthy cholesterol level helps reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.  

Total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL is typically considered high.

Foods high in saturated and trans fats (excess butter, palm oil and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) can increase cholesterol levels. Limit red meat and poultry to no more than two servings per day.


Waist size

 Carrying more weight around your midsection increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Waist size is one way to measure abdominal fat.

To measure your waist, wrap a tape measure around your midsection just above your hipbones. Stand in front of a mirror to make sure the tape is placed horizontally and wraps completely around your abdomen. Take two-three normal breaths. At the end of the third breath, tighten the tape around your abdomen and take the measurement.

 Your risks are lower if your waist measurement is less than:

 40 inches (men)

35 inches (women)


Body mass index

Body mass index (BMI) can help determine if you’re at a healthy weight, underweight or overweight. BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.


 What it means

 Below 19

 At risk for being underweight


 Healthy range


 At risk for being overweight and developing weight-related health conditions (type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure)

 30 or above

 At risk for obesity and developing weight-related health conditions


BMI doesn’t always present a clear picture of health, so keep these things in mind:

As we age, we often lose muscle mass and gain fat.

Where you carry your extra weight matters, even if you fall into the “normal” range.

Blood sugar (for people with diabetes) 

People with diabetes can check their blood sugar (blood glucose) at home to make sure it is in the target range. The goal is to keep your blood sugar from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

Blood sugar guidelines

 Time of day

 Target range

 Before meals

 80 to 130 mg/dL

 2 hours after meals

 Less than 180 mg/dL

 At bedtime

 100 to 160 mg/dL

 Hemoglobin A1c also measures blood sugar. This test reports your levels over the previous three months. It can help you and your doctor understand your long-term control of your blood sugar.

Hemoglobin A1c lab test

 If you are:

 Your target A1c is:

 Under 65 years old with no heart problems or diabetes complications

 Below 7%

Over 65; or younger than 65 and have cardiovascular health problems or diabetes complications

 Below 8%

 Those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure in addition to being overweight or obese. That’s why blood sugar control is so important.


by Patricia Dietzgen, D.O., is a family medicine physician practicing at the Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Offices

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