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What are ideal heart-healthy numbers?

Published On: Dec 29 2011 10:19:54 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 22 2010 09:54:10 AM CST
Blood Pressure

By Melissa J Luther, Contributing Writer

A healthy heart and a healthy body are inseparable. Research has shown many of the same conditions contribute to a diseased body also contribute to heart disease. The same research has discovered many new tests for tracking these diseases and their underlying conditions.

Unfortunately, some doctors don't have the time to thoroughly explain test results to patients. The result is your doctor handing you a copy of your test results, possibly without adequately explaining the numbers. To make matters worse, you need to know not only how what numbers are ?normal? but also whether yours should fall within a range or be above or below a specified cutoff point.

Learn these important numbers to improve your heart-healthy knowledge.

120/80 mmHg -- Blood Pressure

These two numbers represent the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps (systolic pressure; the upper number) and the pressure between beats, when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure; the bottom number).

High blood pressure, defined as at or above 140/85, greatly increases heart attack risk. Between 120/80 and 140/85 is considered pre-hypertension, which research suggests is more harmful than was previously believed, so aim to keep yours at or below 120/80.

50 mg/dL (women) or 40 mg/dL (men) -- HDL cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol that actually helps protect you from heart disease by helping to remove cholesterol from the blood. Relatively high HDL levels are heart protective.

100 mg/dL -- LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol that contributes to heart disease by clogging the arteries. Although some charts indicate up to 160 mg/dL is acceptable for people with little risk of heart disease, optimal levels are below 100 mg/dL regardless of individual risk. People at very high risk of heart disease, including those with active disease, should aim for an even lower number, 70mg/dL.

200 mg/dL -- Total Cholesterol

This number is somewhat less important than knowing the breakdown between LDL and HDL, because even if your total number appears healthy, if it includes low HDL then you are still at increased risk.

Just the same, heart-healthy total cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.

For more information on all forms of cholesterol, see the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's "Lowering Your Blood Cholesterol with TLC."

150 mg/dL -- Triglyderides

Triglycerides are another type of fat. You body makes them when it digests sugars, and evidence suggests that this number might be an even better predictor of heart disease risk than cholesterol. Risks increase above 150 mg/dL, so keep yours below that.

100 mg/dL -- Fasting Glucose

Diabetes greatly increases your risk for coronary heart disease. Do your best to avoid developing it, and if you do, keep it under control, including fasting glucose levels under 100 mg/dL.

7% -- Hemoglobin A1c (Hg A1c)

Hemoglobin A1c levels measure long-term control of blood sugar levels, and are an even better indicator of heart disease risk than fasting glucose. Currently 7% is the accepted safe upper limit.

A study published in 2004 in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows a positive correlation between increasing Hg A1c levels and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The study also suggests keeping A1c below 5% may be even better for your heart.

25 kg/m2 -- Body Mass Index (BMI)

Despite minor flaws (it cannot account for a higher than normal percentage of muscle mass), BMI provides a useful gauge for determining a heart-healthy weight. Keep your BMI just below 25.

35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men) -- Waist Circumference

Studies suggest that people with larger waists are more likely to develop heart disease.

Waist circumference is even more useful when used in conjunction with BMI, and The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a chart where you can gauge your risk of developing obesity associated conditions, including heart disease, based on both numbers.

If you don't know your numbers, see your doctor for a checkup and blood tests. Once you know how your numbers compare to the ideal, formulate a plan to bring any out-of-range numbers back in line.