If you’re wading through a ton of information online about improving your health but don’t know where to start, you may want to find out these numbers first.
Some of the major illnesses effecting people today, like heart disease, are lifestyle related. They are not linked to an inherited condition, but to the accumulated result of someone’s chosen daily habits. Therefore, if that person choses healthier habits, the problems associated with lifestyle illnesses could be diminished or eliminated.
To get a clear picture of whether your lifestyle habits have helped or hindered your health, it’s useful to measure several parameters through easily administered tests. These tests will give you insight into where you stand now, and indicate what you need to improve to stay in shape and avoid costly health problems later in life. This is more effective than trying the latest diet program, exercise regimen or supplement without knowing what you really need.
Below is a list of some of the most important tests you can have done.
Five Numbers: (determined by a blood test prescribed by your doctor)
- Fasting Insulin: High levels of refined sugar and simple carbohydrates in the diet can increase inflammation. They trigger a release of insulin, promoting the accumulation of fat and the creation of triglycerides, making it more difficult for you to lose weight or maintain your normal weight. Excess fat around your waist is one of the main contributors to heart disease. A normal fasting blood insulin level is around 2-6 microunits per milliliter (mcU/ml), but a score below 3 mcU/ml is ideal.1 If your level is higher than 5, the most effective way to improve you score is to reduce the refined carbohydrates in your diet. Exercise also lowers insulin and reduces insulin resistance.
- Fasting Blood Sugar: Studies have demonstrated that people with higher fasting blood sugar or glucose levels have a higher risk for developing coronary heart disease.2 When your fasting blood sugar is between 100 and 125 mg/dl, your risk of coronary artery disease is dramatically increased compared to those whose levels are below 79 mg/dl.
- Hemoglobin A1-c: This test tells you your average level of blood sugar over the past 2 to 3 months. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells. The sugar in your blood is called glucose. When glucose builds up in your blood, it binds to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. The A1c test measures how much glucose is bound. Red blood cells have a lifespan of 3 months, so this test shows the average level of glucose in your blood over the previous 3 months.3
- High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein or HS-CRP: It is now understood that inflammation, not cholesterol, is the primary cause of heart disease.4 The HS-CRP test is one of the best measures of low but persistent levels of inflammation, so this is an excellent screening test for heart disease risk. The lower the number the better. Low risk: less than 1.0 mg/L (below 0.7 is best), Average risk: 1-3.0 mg/L, High risk: above 3.0 mg/L.5
- Cholesterol Ratios: Your HDL/Cholesterol ratio and triglyceride/HDL ratios are good indicators of your risk for heart disease and are more accurate than toal cholesterol or total LDL.6 To find your HDL/Cholesterol ratio, divide your HDL by your total cholesterol and multiply by 100. A good percentage should be above 24%. To find your triglyceride/HDL ratio, divide your triglyceride total by your HDL and multiply by 100. The ideal percentage is below 2%. 7
Knowing your personal health numbers will take the guess work out of which lifestyle changes are needed to get in shape.
Three health numbers to optimize:8 (calculated with the help of your doctor)
- Body Mass Index (BMI)– the ideal number is in a range of 18.5-24.9. People with very high BMI have are at increased risk of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, gallstones, liver problems and some cancers.9
- Blood Pressure– Normal: 120/80 mm Hg or below. High blood pressure increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, according to the British Heart Foundation.
- Waist circumference (measured at the naval)-Women: 35 inches or less Men: 40 inches or less. A high waist circumference is associated with several diseases such as: Type 2 Diabetes, Cardio Vascular Disease and Hypertension.10
Need to lower your BMI or waist circumference?
Diet and exercise changes are called for in this case: Adjusting your diet to lower calories but also to change the type of calories your eat is effective. You can plan this with a nutritionist. High Intesity Interval Training or HIIT is for you. A HIIT exercise alternates short bursts of effort followed by moderate effort. Working out this way for only 15-20 minutes every day is effective. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is a way to work this type of exercise into your daily routine. Develop a plan with your physician to find out what exercises would be right for you.
Need to lower your blood pressure?
Dietary changes such as reducing salt and alcohol are called for here. There is also a diet called the “DASH” diet (“Dietary Appoaches to Stop Hypertension”) which has proven to be very effective in lowering blood pressure. Regular exercise such as swimming, walking, cycling, jogging, dancing and even weight training are important. The key here is a regular, steady schedule of exercise.11
Measuring these parameters will give you an accurate picture of the state of your health. They will also give you guidance on the direction to take in diet and exercise to improve them. This takes a lot of the guess work out of which lifestyle changes are needed. They also give you a starting point from which you can fix an objective to target.
Were you aware of these health numbers and, if so, have you had them checked?
- Stephen Guyenet, Phd., Neuroscience, specialist in the neuroscience of obesity and eating behavoir, University of Washington
- Shaye, Amir, Shlomo, Yechezkel: “Fasting glucose levels within the high normal range predict cardiovascular outcome.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934381/. Regarding women in particular, see the following conclusions of one study on Pub Med: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18206734
- WebMD, Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD.
- Health Canal: https://www.healthcanal.com/blood-heart-circulation/heart-disease/240113-inflammatory-hypothesis-confirmed-reducing-inflammation-without-lowering-cholesterol-cuts-risk-cardiovascular-events.html
- The American Heart Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/making-sense-of-cholesterol-tests
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/10-things-you-should-know-about-heart-disease
- Pennsylvania State University, PennState Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Cowley MA, Brown WA, Considine RV. “Obesity: the problem and its management.” In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 26. PDF: http://printer-friendly.adam.com/content.aspx?productId=117&pid=60&gid=000348&c_custid=758
- National Institutes of Health: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-pro/guidelines/current/obesity-guidelines/e_textbook/txgd/4142.htm
- Mayo Clinic, mayoclinic.org: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974