If your primary care provider asks you if you know your numbers, he or she probably isn't talking about your cell phone number. There are several important health numbers that adults should know. These numbers are indicators of overall health and point to areas of concern.
The more important numbers to know are blood pressure, weight and body mass index (BMI). These three are the strongest markers for heart disease risk and heart disease which remains the number one killer of all Americans.
Understanding these three numbers and what they say about your health can lead to important conversations with your primary care provider about your overall health.
A healthy blood pressure is 120/80. The American Heart Association recommends blood pressure screening annually or once every two years if your blood pressure is low, or less than 120/80. Blood pressure 140/90 and up is considered hypertension and should be addressed.
BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. While BMI may not be the best tool for identifying weight concerns (for example a patient may have a high BMI due to high muscle mass), it is easy to calculate and understand. While an elevated BMI may not be grounds for concern on its own, combined with other data it helps provide an overall picture of health.
You can easily find calculators online to learn your BMI. For the average American, BMI is too high, which generally means you may be at risk for heart disease or diabetes.
Weight, blood pressure and BMI are numbers that are very accessible. You don't necessarily have to visit your primary care provider to know these numbers. You can take advantage of free screening opportunities at work and in your community and follow up with your primary care provider on numbers that are concerning or abnormal.
Beyond weight, blood pressure and BMI, blood sugar and cholesterol are the next important numbers to know.
Individuals with high cholesterol rarely have any symptoms, so they often don't know to be concerned. However, high cholesterol is another key indicator for heart disease risk. Normal total cholesterol should be 200 mg/dL or less.
Knowing your fasting blood sugar levels is also important. Less than 100 mg/dL is considered a normal sugar level when fasting. High blood sugar levels can be damaging over time and lead to diabetes and other chronic health concerns.
A good time to start having cholesterol and blood sugar checked regularly is around age 30. If no problems are identified at that time, your primary care provider may recommend monitoring every few years. At age 40, however, these numbers should be checked annually or more often if there is a concern.
Another key indicator for overall health that many providers are paying more attention to is waist circumference. A high waist circumference can be associated with higher risk for health concerns such as diabetes and heart disease. Waist circumference should be less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men.
With women in particular, estrogen levels decrease as they age and they begin to gather more weight around the waist. During this phase, a regular exercise routine becomes even more important to maintain waist size, weight, blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
Knowing your numbers and regularly monitoring them for changes keeps the benchmarks for a healthier you front and center in your mind so that you can work to improve where needed. When you keep your numbers in a healthy range, you will feel better, have more energy and have less long-term health concerns.