Women can recite many numbers by heart, such as credit card numbers, addresses, telephone numbers, and pin numbers. But most women don’t know the critical numbers that can save their lives and help them to better understand their risk for cardiovascular diseases. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined. So, it is imperative that women learn the warning signs and symptoms, see a doctor regularly, and learn their family history.
Know Your Numbers
According to the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement, there are four critical numbers for heart health that all women should know:
- Blood Pressure
- Blood Sugar
- Body Mass Index (BMI).
These numbers can help women take control of their heart health, allowing them to work with their healthcare provider to determine their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by atherosclerosis. This includes conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots), and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Some numbers are more apparent than others in daily life. For example:
- High cholesterol has no symptoms, so it is critical to talk to your doctor about your cholesterol numbers (you should ask about your LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol and the other numbers in your lipid blood test instead of just learning your total cholesterol number). High levels of bad cholesterol contribute to the development of plaque that clogs arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke. Ask your doctor how your cholesterol numbers contribute to your overall risk of cardiovascular disease.
- High blood pressure is also a silent killer that does not carry symptoms but is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges (more or less 120/80), you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys, which keeps you healthier longer. You can control blood pressure by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet low in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol, and alcohol and by exercising multiple times per week. Some people may have to take blood pressure medications if healthy lifestyle alone does not control elevated blood pressure.
Blood sugar and BMI
Keeping your blood sugar levels and BMI within a healthy range is related to maintaining a healthy weight. Your weight, in turn, is influenced by what you eat, how much you eat, and how much you stay physically active.
- Blood sugar levels fluctuate throughout the day, but in general, a normal fasting (no food for eight hours) blood sugar is under 100 mg/dl. Blood sugars measured two hours after meals should be less than 140 mg/dl. When blood sugar levels exceed these levels, it may indicate that you have or are on your way to having diabetes. You should talk to your doctor about what you can do if you learn that your blood sugar levels are higher than normal.
- A major source of excess calories in the American diet comes from sugar. Sugar is everywhere, including regular soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, and milk products. I recommend that women limit sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day.
- BMI is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height. It is an indicator of healthy or unhealthy weight for adult women, regardless of body frame size. A BMI of less than 25 kg/m² indicates a healthy weight and a BMI between 25 kg/m² and a BMI of 29.9 kg/m² is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 kg/m² or higher indicates obesity. Living an active lifestyle is an effective way to lower your BMI, and is one of the most rewarding gifts you can give yourself and those you love.
The bottom line
By knowing your numbers, you can take control of your heart health and treat risk factors with lifestyle changes and your healthcare provider’s help. Cardiovascular diseases kill 1 in 3 women each year—about one woman every 80 seconds. Fortunately, 80% of these diseases may be preventable. So, lead by example and make the time to “Know Your Numbers.” It’s knowledge that could save your life.