Do you know your numbers and how healthy choices can improve them?

Ok, so first things first, let’s clarify what is meant by your numbers. This term refers to your biometrics or more specifically to your cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, body fat %, etc. that determine your risk factors for chronic disease. As you may or may not be aware elevated biometric results implicate an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer to name a few. Some of these factors can be affected by the choices we make on daily basis involving nutrition and exercise, while there are a few factors that contribute to the results that we do not have any control over, such as genetics or ethnicity. Thankfully, making healthy choices can significantly change our biometric results and greatly offset some of the factors that are beyond our control.

Cholesterol is a substance that is produced in our bodies by our liver to assist in normal production of  hormones, bile production and nerve transmission. The liver provides all the cholesterol our bodies need for proper function however, food that comes from animal sources such as meat, dairy and transfats add to the amount of cholesterol in our bodies. When you receive the results of a blood test for cholesterol, typically there are four numbers involved. The total cholesterol ideally should be at or below 200 mg/dL. Total cholesterol is then broken down between HDL (healthy) cholesterol that should be at 40 mg/dL or more, while the LDL(bad) cholesterol is considered acceptable at 100mg/dL or less. Finally, the last number in the series is triglycerides (free-floating fat in the blood) which should come in somewhere around 150mg/dL or less. Cholesterol is one of those factors that does have a genetic link, so making healthy nutrition choices and taking part in a regular fitness program could greatly decrease your risk for disease and the need for medication in the future. Your diet should include plenty of high fiber food, such as whole grains, lots of fresh fruits and veggies and very limited saturated fat.  Being mindful of your nutrition and getting regular physical activity most days of the week for a minimum of 30 minutes will help reduce the likelihood of having elevated cholesterol.

In addition to cholesterol screening, often if there is any indication that diabetes could be an issue doctors will check blood glucose as well. For a fasting test the ideal results of a glucose test would be anything below 100, 100-126 is considered to be pre-diabetic and above 126 is determined to be diabetic. Once again regular physical activity and a diet high in whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies and limited saturated fat as well as refined carbohydrate can help to control blood glucose levels. In addition to the lifestyle factors listed it has also be proven that those who smoke  and drink (alcohol) heavily, increase their risk for high blood glucose levels and thus contribute to the possibility of becoming diabetic.

Blood pressure is another biometric measurement that you should keep an eye on to avoid health issues. When your doctor/nurse takes your blood pressure they will record two numbers. The first number you will see is your systolic blood pressure,  the pressure on the walls of the heart as it pumps blood. The second number is the diastolic pressure which  is determine by the pressure when the heart is relaxed. Ideally your blood pressure should be no higher than 120/80 and anything between 121-140/81-90 is prehypertensive, while numbers greater than 140/90 are  hypertensive.  There are several factors that contribute to hypertension such as poor diet and lack of exercise, genetics, tobacco and alcohol use. By now you should see a repeating pattern, as with cholesterol and glucose levels, healthy nutrition choices and regular physical activity play a large role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains and a diet low in saturated fat and limited sodium will help keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Body composition is another factor that can play a role in your risk for chronic disease. A recent study found that 84% of Americans are overweight. It’s no wonder the rates of disease are growing at this very moment. Obesity contributes to all chronic disease including but not limited to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Our bodies were not designed to be sedentary and they certainly do not respond favorably to high fat, high sugar diets that often come along with the convenience of high processed foods. A healthy body fat percentage for women is 20-32% (or less), with 33-39% considered overweight and anything above 39% is obese. For men the numbers are as follows, 8-19%(or less) is considered healthy, 20-25% is overweight and 26% or more falls under the category of obese. Anyone who is overweight/obese and carrying access fat around their middle has a higher risk for heart disease.

Next time you are at the doctor, ask questions to find out what your numbers look like and be aware of your family health history, so that you know your risk for disease. Now that you have learned what these numbers mean and how you can change them, its time to put a plan in place to begin making healthy lifestyle changes to feel better and live a longer healthier life. Setting short-term goals to help you reach your eventual goal is the smartest way to work toward healthier living. Don’t set goals based on what your doctor, spouse or any other relative say you “need” to do, but picture what you would like the end result to be and set goals based on what YOU “want”. The lifestyle choices you make today will effect the way that you will feel tomorrow.

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