Cardiovascular disease is a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. It can cause events like a heart attack or stroke and is the leading cause of death in the U.S. There are several things that can increase your risk for heart disease. The good news is, the majority of the heart disease risk factors are preventable and are within our control. These are known as modifiable risk factors. They include tobacco use, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and being overweight, and diabetes.
Many of these risk factors can be identified in routine screenings with a health care professional. Each of these screenings provides a number that can help determine your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Knowing these five numbers is a powerful tool in helping you take action and take control of your heart health.
BMI or Body Mass Index is used as a screening tool by most health professionals. The purpose of this test is to assess the risk of weight-related illnesses of the person being screened. BMI is the balance of someone’s body weight compared to their height. For most people, a high BMI value can correlate with a high percentage of body fat. A high amount of body fat increases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
Having a BMI of under 25 significantly decreases your chances of developing heart disease. Managing your weight is the only way to control this number. You can do this by eating a nutritious low fat and low-calorie diet, getting regular physical activity and taking care of your overall well-being.
HDL, high-density lipoprotein, also known as “the good cholesterol” is a beneficial number to know regarding heart health. Generally, the higher the score the better. More specifically, for males, the number to shoot for is 40 mg/dL and above, and for females 50 mg/dL and above. Having high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. If you have a low HDL number, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to raise it. Generally, practicing healthy eating choices, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body weight are common ways to increase it.
LDL, low-density lipoprotein, or “the bad cholesterol”, makes up most of the body’s cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries which raises one’s risk for developing heart disease and stroke. Generally, when it comes to LDL, the lower the number the better. Furthermore, the optimal number is under 130 mg/dL. For individuals who may have a family history of high cholesterol, it is recommended by health professionals to have an LDL under 100 mg/dL. Again, eating heart-healthy foods is a great way to decrease this number.
Triglycerides are the type of fat in the bloodstream that the body used for energy. Having elevated triglycerides is associated specifically with cardiovascular disease. Optimally, it is recommended for one’s triglyceride numbers to stay under 150mg/dL. Daily practices of physical activity, healthy nutrition, and optimal weight management are the best ways to stay within optimal limits (under 150 mg/dL).
5. Blood Pressure
Knowing which blood pressure category is important for many reasons. In short, blood pressure is a good indicator of one’s risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, and strokes.
Ways to help manage blood pressure include eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, working towards a healthy weight, managing stress, and last avoid tobacco use.
It is important to know your numbers and what they mean. Knowing your BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure numbers can be used as tools to assess your risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. Know your numbers, get tested, practice healthy nutrition and stress management, and get physical activity daily. A healthy heart is a happy heart.