When some people hear, ‘know your numbers’ they immediately start thinking about their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN), debit card PIN, or emergency contact numbers. Sure, these are all important numbers, but when health experts ask for your ‘numbers’ they refer to those numbers that are essential to living a longer and healthier life. These numbers are key markers for heart diseases, which is a leading cause of death. Not only do these numbers give you an idea of heart health, but it also gives information on how healthy other organ systems are.
Studies have shown that majority of premature deaths caused by heart diseases could have been prevented by addressing the treatable risk factors. Over the holidays, I travelled to the village and I decided to try a little experiment to test just how much people know about these important numbers, and the results I got were heartbreaking to say the least. In total I had talked to about 40 people and as expected, almost all of them were worried about heart disease and early deaths. However, less than half of them knew their blood pressure status and less than 10 people knew what a healthy blood pressure should be.
These key numbers are biometric health screening numbers and it is important to be knowledgeable about them because they determine whether an individual currently has, or is at risk of chronic conditions that may otherwise go undetected. These conditions include hypertension and diabetes. The five most important numbers to be aware of are blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood sugar, BMI, and waist circumference.
Blood Pressure: Blood pressure represents the pressure that the blood vessels are under when the heart is pumping. Normal blood pressure consists of two numbers: the higher Systolic, and the lower diastolic reading. Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80. If the pressure is too high, it means the heart is doing too much work. Persistent high blood pressure >140/90 strains the heart and is known as Hypertension. Hypertension could go undetected for many years and that is why it is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. It is important to have this number checked regularly at the doctor’s office.
Blood Glucose: This is also known as blood sugar and it is used in evaluating risk for diabetes. Normal blood glucose range is 80-120mg/dl. Fasting blood sugar that reads greater than 126mg/dl on two separate occasions is indicative of diabetes. Routine testing should be done at least once annually, as elevated glucose levels can also go undetected for a long time. Severe diabetic complications affect almost every organ including kidneys, eyes, nerves, heart etc.
Blood Cholesterol: There are two types of cholesterol; LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). Cholesterol testing in individuals should begin as early as age 20. The goal of LDL cholesterol should be less than 100mg/dl while HDL cholesterol should be greater than 40. Elevated LDL cholesterol is usually asymptomatic and can contribute to heart disease.
Body Mass Index (BMI): The BMI calculation helps to determine how much fat is on your body. The higher the number, the higher the body fat, which is essentially obesity. Being obese means that you are at a higher risk for premature death due to all the obesity-related conditions. In fact, obesity reduces life expectancy by up to 20 years so it is important to try to keep this number within normal range as much as possible. Normal BMI is less than 25. Overweight (25-30), Obese (30-35) Morbidly Obese >35.
Waist Circumference: A limitation of the BMI number is that it doesn’t take into consideration muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat and could increase total body weight and essentially raise BMI number. For that reason, another important number to know is the waist circumference. Waist circumference is a measure of abdominal obesity and this extra abdominal fat increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Heart disease. The ideal waist size is 32inches for women and 35inches for men. People with Waist measurements that are greater than 35 for women, and 40 for men are advised to immediately lose some weight.
All these numbers mentioned are important to know because they all screen for preventable, treatable illnesses. We can all take better care of ourselves and live longer, healthier lives just by educating ourselves on these numbers. Not just knowing them, but also what they mean, and knowing the lifestyle modifications we can incorporate into our daily lives to ensure that these numbers stay within healthy range.
Disclaimer: The medical information is provided as an information resource only. It does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
By: Nini Iyizoba for The Guardian.