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Know Your Numbers

Monday, December 21, 2015

Year-end audits and financial reviews are in full swing.  It is critical for businesses and households to know and understand their finances in order to plan for the future.  Likewise, individuals should know their health numbers; yet, few people put this on their end-of-the-year review list.  Many people either don’t know their health numbers or understand them.  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 12% of Americans are proficient in health literacy; meaning they can look at health tables, charts, and numbers and interpret them correctly. Yet, those numbers are important for good health and well-being.  Critical health numbers include:  blood glucose (sugar), blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and body weight.  The Centers for Disease Control state “Keep track of your numbers for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and others. These numbers can provide a glimpse of your health status and risk for certain diseases and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more.”  Visiting your physician and getting a blood draw is the first step in knowing your numbers.  Once that is accomplished, a thorough discussion of the results along with a game plan for either maintaining or improving your numbers is next.  

Before you analyze your results, look at the following guidelines for healthy numbers:

Blood glucose – There are two basic measurements.  One is the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood after fasting.  This is measured in milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL.  A normal reading would be under 99 mg/dL.  Blood sugar is also measured by the amount of glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in your blood. An HbA1c test gives you a picture of your average blood sugar control for the past 2 to 3 months.  This is commonly known as your A1c and is measured as a percentage.  A normal reading would be 4.0%-5.6%.  5.7%-6.4% indicates an increased risk for diabetes and a reading above 6.5% indicates diabetes.

Blood pressure – Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg.  This refers to the height to which the pressure in the blood vessels pushes a column of mercury.  There are two numbers.  The top number is the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating (systolic pressure), and the bottom number is the amount of pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure). Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.  Prehypertension is 120/80-139/89 and hypertension (high blood pressure) is 140/90 or higher.

Cholesterol – A blood draw for cholesterol will reveal four numbers: total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.  

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood or mg/dL.   A desirable total cholesterol level is less than 200 mg/dL.   HDL or the “good” cholesterol is best at 40mg/dL or higher and LDL or “bad” cholesterol optimally should be less than 100 mg/dL.  Triglycerides are best at 150 mg/dL or lower.  

Body weight – To determine optimal weight, doctors refer to the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is a formula developed to test how much body fat we have in relation to our weight. In the USA, we use the following formula:  

BMI= 703 x weight/height2.   A normal BMI reading is 18.5-24.9.  Overweight is 25-29.9 and obese is 30 or greater.  Doctors will also take into consideration your build, muscle mass, and age when analyzing the BMI.

As you finish out this year and start planning for 2016, consider putting a visit to the doctor on your calendar.  Ask for a blood draw and a BMI reading so you can know your numbers and start off the New Year on the right track.

On behalf of Noyes Health, Happy New Year! We wish you good health for 2016.  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.  

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