It’s all about the numbers

Published 6:56 pm Friday, January 11, 2019

By now, most of us are in the swing of 2019. Our New Year’s resolutions are going strong. We are well aware of the number staring back at us from the scales. We all know the magic number of steps we need to attain daily (it’s 10,000 for those who may not). Some of us even know the number of calories we need to stay under to lose that holiday cushion. If you know all those numbers, good for you! Awareness is a powerful tool! While knowing those numbers is great, there’s another set of numbers that we must be aware of.

What about knowing numbers that could save your life? The numbers in the biometric or health screening include body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Along with race, age, gender and family history, these numbers can indicate an individual’s risk for developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the nation. Having your numbers checked yearly takes about 15 minutes and can empower you to make changes to improve your health and well-being.

So what exactly do all these numbers mean and why is it important to know them?

BMI is a ratio of height and weight. Many people think they are the same height they were in high school; therefore, it is important to begin with accurate measurements. Recommended BMI for an adult is 18-24.9. This screening tool works well in determining the BMI of adults of average muscular build. Because muscle really does weigh more than fat, adults with above-average muscle mass could benefit from other methods to determine their BMI, such as skin fold thickness measurements. Research indicates the higher the BMI, the higher the risk for developing chronic diseases with aging. Unfortunately, height can’t be changed, so weight management is the key to lowering BMI.

Blood Pressure — The highest pressure (systolic) along with the lowest pressure (diastolic) in the heart make up what is known as blood pressure. A normal blood pressure reading is 120/70 mm/hg. High blood pressure or hypertension can have no symptoms. Years of untreated hypertension can damage arteries and increase an individual’s risk for stroke, kidney disease and diabetes; therefore, it is important to keep a regular check of your blood pressure as you age.

Blood Sugar— Normal blood sugar after having not eaten for 8 hours is 80-100mg/dL. When the sugar levels in your blood become high, it can signify a condition called diabetes. Diabetes occurs when either the pancreas is not producing any or enough insulin to allow sugar into the cells or our bodies are preventing the insulin from working. Uncontrolled blood sugars can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, erectile dysfunction, food problems and pregnancy complications. Diabetes is a condition that needs to be carefully managed and being aware of your blood sugar is the best way to do so.

Cholesterol — Cholesterol and triglycerides are both fats that circulate in the bloodstream; however, they perform differently in the body. Cholesterol builds cells while triglycerides break down when energy is needed. Total cholesterol levels greater than 200 mg/dL and triglyceride levels greater than 150 mg/dL can cause heart or circulatory problems. You may have heard of two kinds of cholesterol — “good” and “bad.” The HDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol. It actually functions to keep the arteries clean. It is recommended that females have an HDL greater than 50mg/dL and men greater than 40mg/dL. LDL is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. An LDL cholesterol level greater than 100mg/dL can clog up arteries, increasing risk of heart disease, stroke or blood clots. Maintaining a healthy weight and diet along with regular exercise can help increase HDL and lower LDL.

So for all of you striving for a better you in 2019 — keep on the path to wellness. The saying “Knowledge is power” really applies here. Once you are aware of the numbers in your biometric screening, you are empowered to make changes in your lifestyle to decrease risks of developing chronic diseases as you age. If you get the opportunity, take advantage of health screenings offered in your community, but remember a screening should not take the place of a yearly physical exam with your primary care provider.

Jennifer Lewis, RN, is the community health improvement coordinator at Vidant Beaufort Hospital. She can be reached by calling 252-975-8850.