A long life free of heart disease does not come just from controlling the standard measures like blood pressure and cholesterol. Sure, keeping tabs on these indicators is essential to gauging your heart’s health, but a few other numbers—some surprising—can be meaningful as well.
Take control of your health by learning these six numbers; they’ll help with everything from losing weight to protecting your heart.
1. Your daily calorie needs.
This is not technically a measurement, but it can have a huge influence on your health. Most women need 2,000 calories a day for good health, and men generally need about 2,550. One way to work out your daily calorie needs is to multiply your weight in pounds by 13 to 15, depending on your activity level. But roughly, that’s 300 to 400 calories for breakfast, 500 to 600 for lunch, 600 to 700 for dinner, and two or three snacks of roughly 100 to 200 calories each. Trying to lose weight? Eat roughly 500 calories less.
2. Your waist size.
Waist size is one of the best ways to measure whether your weight is affecting your heart health. Fat cells aren’t just storage for extra calories; when body fat is packed into your abdomen, the fat cells release inflammatory chemicals and out-of-kilter levels of appetite-controlling proteins. Your risk of heart attack increases, and your risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome goes up. For women, health risk begins to rise when your waist is more than 35 inches. For men, risk increases with a measurement when your waist is over 40 inches. The best way to measure? Wrap a tape measure around your abdomen at or near your belly button. Keep it snug but not tight—and don’t pull your stomach in.
3. Your LDLs and HDLs.
It’s important to know not just your total cholesterol reading, but also your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDLs. When you see your doctor for blood test results, ask for the readings for both forms of cholesterol and the ratio of your total cholesterol to HDLs (TC:HDL). Aim for total cholesterol below 5.2 mmol/l (below 5 mmol/l if you have heart disease or diabetes), and LDL cholesterol levels below 3.5 mmol/l, or below 2 mmol/l if you have a history of heart disease. A healthy HDL level is 1.3 mmol/l or above.
4. Your blood pressure.
Blood pressure—the force of blood against the walls of your arteries—rises and falls normally during the day. When it remains elevated, you have hypertension (high blood pressure) and this carries a higher risk or atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.