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You can start by taking time to learn about some important metrics:
Cholesterol is one of many preventable risk factors for heart disease. To better understand your cardiac health, your doctor will conduct tests to pinpoint other factors that can also increase your risks.
These tests provide important health numbers you need to know and monitor.
Blood glucosePerformed with a simple blood draw, this test measures the amount of sugar (glucose) in your bloodstream. When blood sugar is too high, it can lead to diabetes. A major health problem on its own, diabetes is also a big risk factor for heart disease.
How will you know if your blood sugar is too high? Your doctor will tell you. If it is, you may need to change your diet or activity level to help bring it under control. Reducing the amount of saturated fat you eat by cutting back on red meat and desserts might be one way to help lower your fasting blood sugar. So can getting 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. If needed, your doctor will prescribe medication that can help.
Blood pressureYour blood pressure is typically tested with a blood pressure cuff in your doctor’s office. The test measures the force of blood against the arteries when your heart beats and when it rests. When blood pressure remains above healthy levels for too long – generally higher than 120/80 mm Hg – it can trigger a greater risk for heart attack, stroke and other health issues.
Like high cholesterol, high blood pressure has no symptoms. That’s why it’s important to know your numbers. It’s estimated that one out of every three Americans has high blood pressure, and in many of them, it goes untreated.
Body mass index (BMI)Everyone’s ideal body weight is different. It depends on age, height, gender and frame. BMI is one tool your doctor can use to determine if you’re a healthy weight. The test calculates your weight and height to determine your muscle-to-fat ratio.
A BMI of 25 or higher can increase your risk for heart disease. The higher your BMI, the greater your risk. Here’s the good news: Losing even a small amount of weight – just five to 10 percent of your total body weight – can help. For a 200-pound person, that means shedding just 10 to 20 pounds.
Waist circumferenceMeasuring your waist also offers clues about your risk for heart disease. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than your hips, you have a higher risk for heart disease and other conditions like diabetes. For heart health, women should strive to have a waistline 35 inches or smaller. Men should try for less than 40 inches.
While knowing these health numbers is important, taking action to improve them if necessary is vital. You have the power to significantly reduce your risk for heart disease. By working with your doctor to control your cholesterol levels and keep other risk factors at bay, you can live a longer, healthier life.
Originally published 2/11/2016; Revised 2019, 2022
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