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Day 10: Men, Women and Kids -- Know Your 5 Heart Health Numbers

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Here we are at Day 10 of 29 days of American Heart Month blogs. I would be remiss in not reviewing what you want to know about your heart health numbers.

Okay, you probably don't want to know them, but it's a good idea. Especially if there's any possibility you'd like to improve them. But, hey, no pressure.

You'll need three -- make that two -- things, and one doctor:

  • A blood pressure cuff/monitor (free use of machines at many drug stores)
  • An online calculator that lets you know if your weight is in the normal or not
  • Blood tests your doctor orders that are usually paid for by your health insurance provider, if you're lucky enough to have one.

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At the bottom of this post are two YouTube videos that will teach you the cardio-choreography to Patricia Butts' rap lyrics. One of the best ways to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease is to get regular exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Why not dance?

Here is some info on "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" (DASH).

Here is some info on Go Red BetterU™, the free 12-week health improvement program that you can follow in your own home with no expensive gym memberships or special equipment. Okay, here we go.

What's Your Blood Pressure Number?

  • Normal Blood Pressure is: 120/80 or less.
  • Prehypertension (pre-high blood pressure) is: 120/80 to 139/89
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) is: 140/90 or higher

Genetics, gender, age, and hardening of arteries may contribute to developing high blood pressure. Hypertension can be kept under control by very effective medications. You can look high and low and you are not going to find out exactly why you get high blood pressure or even exactly why the medications work. For now, there are clues but not definitive answers.

Obesity, inactivity, oversensitivity to salt, alcohol abuse, and smoking contribute to high blood pressure. Birth control pills may slightly elevate blood pressure. Try changing the things you can change; if your blood pressure goes down and stays down, stick with the change.

"Are You Overweight or Not?" Number

Enter your height and weight, click the button and magically you get a number that tells you whether you are under weight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. This is your "Body Mass Index" (BMI) number. You probably already have an idea of whether you're over- or under-weight, but this number makes it official.

"Do You Have High Cholesterol?" Number

Prepare yourself not to have a brain freeze when you read the letters "mg/dL" below. They are just measurements, like 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a recipe. They are scientific abbreviations for how many grams of a certain substance are present in one liter of a liquid mixture -- in this case your blood.

Routine blood tests show whether your blood cholesterol levels are healthy. It's not common, but children can have high cholesterol. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children after age 2, and no later than age 10.

For adults, healthy levels of both HDL ("Good/Protective") and LDL ("Bad") cholesterol will prevent plaque from building up in your arteries. Here are the numbers for which you're looking:

Total Cholesterol Number (HDL & LDL added together)

  • Desirable Total Cholesterol is: Anything less than 200 mg/dL
  • Borderline high Total Cholesterol is: 200-239 mg/dL
  • High Total Cholesterol is: Anything 240 mg/dL* and above.
  • An HDL "Good/Protective" cholesterol is: anything more than 40 mg/dL
  • Anything less than 40 mg/dL* is a major risk factor for heart disease.

HDL "Good/Protective" Cholesterol

  • An HDL cholesterol of anything more than 40 mg/dL is protection against heart disease.
  • An HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL is a major risk factor for heart disease.

LDL "Bad" Cholesterol

  • Optimal LDL "Bad" Cholesterol is: less than 100 mg/dL
  • Near Optimal LDL "Bad" Cholesterol is: 100-129 mg/dL
  • Borderline high LDL "Bad" Cholesterol is: 130-159 mg/dL
  • High LDL "Bad" Cholesterol is: 160-189 mg/dL
  • Very High "Bad" Cholesterol is: 190 mg/dL and above.

"Are Your Triglycerides Too High?" Number

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Some studies suggest that a high level of triglycerides in the blood may raise the risk of Coronary Heart Disease, especially in women.

"Do You Have Diabetes or Not?" Number

Blood Glucose (fasting)

  • Normal: under 99 mg/dL and below
  • Prediabetes: 100-125 mg/dL
  • Diabetes: 126 mg/dL and above

And finally, the numbers you've all been waiting to watch! See you tomorrow.

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Please take a few minutes to visit the Yale Heart Study site and complete the heart attack survivors survey or forward it to someone you know who has survived a heart attack.

Disclosure: Suzanne O'Malley is a Senior Research Associate for the non-profit NIH-funded Yale Heart Study, a Faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference & Associate/Director of Yale Summer Film Institute.

For more by Suzanne O'Malley, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

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