Know your health numbers

Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 3:25 p.m.
How are your health numbers? Yes, controlling your weight is important to your general good health. But to get the full picture, you should know some other numbers, as well. They can reduce your risk of serious illness, including heart attack and stroke.
Here's a brief look at the numbers that add up to good health.
Total cholesterol levels, including good and bad cholesterol, should be below 200 milligrams. Your blood cholesterol level is the amount of fat in your blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control, lowering your total cholesterol level by 10% can reduce the incidence of heart disease by 30 percent.
Numbers for LDL, the bad form of cholesterol, vary with your risk of heart disease. But the American Heart Association recommends you keep it under 130 mgl/dl if your are at moderate risk. Your doctor will determine this figure and other crucial health numbers from the results of a blood test.
HDL is a lipoprotein that transports cholesterol in the blood. And unlike LDL, you want to keep your numbers up. Levels vary with men and women, but men should aim to keep at least 40 mg/dl and women, 50 mg/dl.
Triglycerides offer a measure of the amount of fat in your diet and how effectively your body metabolizes it. If your levels are high, you may have another condition, such as diabetes and obesity, that increases the likelihood you will develop cardiovascular disease.
There is no "ideal" blood pressure reading. Generally, however, a reading that is less than 120 over 80 indicates that you don't need to worry. Higher levels are a sign that your heart is having to work too hard to pump blood through your body. The first number measures the pressure in your arteries when the heart contracts and the second indicates the pressure when your heart relaxes.
Fasting glucose is measured to diagnose or screen for diabetes and to monitor control in patients who have diabetes.
Most carbohydrates in your diet end up as glucose in the blood. Excess glucose is converted to glycogen for storage by the liver and skeletal muscles after meals. Glycogen is gradually broken down to glucose and released into the blood by the liver between meals. Excess glucose is converted to triglyceride for energy storage.
Glucose is a major source of energy for most cells of the body. Some cells (for example, brain and red blood cells), are almost totally dependent on blood glucose as a source of energy. The brain, in fact, requires that glucose concentrations in the blood remain within a certain range in order to function normally. Concentrations of less than about 30 milligrams per deciliter or greater than about 300 mg/dL can produce confusion or unconsciousness.
The healthy range for Body Mass Index, a measure of your weight in relation to your height, is 18.5 to 24.9. Anything about 25 is considered overweight; over 30 is obese. You can quickly calculate your BMI using the formula on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Web site: www.nhlbisupport .com/bmi/.
Determine your waist circumference by placing a tape measure snugly around your waist. It is a good indicator of your abdominal fat, which is another predictor of your risk for developing risk factors for heart disease. This risk increases with a waist measurement of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women.
The decision to become physically fit requires a lifelong commitment, according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. But the prize is worth the price.
How much exercise is needed to make a difference in your weight depends on the amount and type of activity, and on how much you eat. Aerobic exercise burns body fat. A medium-sized adult would have to walk more than 30 miles to burn up 3,500 calories, the equivalent of one pound of fat. Although that may seem like a lot, you don't have to walk the 30 miles all at once. Walking a mile a day for 30 days will achieve the same result, providing you don't increase your food intake to negate the effects of walking.
If you consume 100 calories a day more than your body needs, you will gain approximately 10 pounds in a year. You could take that weight off, or keep it off, by doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily. The combination of exercise and diet offers the most flexible and effective approach to weight control.
Even though the thyroid is just a small gland in the neck, located below the Adam's apple, it has some big responsibilities in your body, including making a hormone that regulates the body's metabolism and organ functions.
When there's too much thyroid activity, you may feel anxious and have difficulty sleeping. In comparison, when there's too little thyroid hormone, you might feel sluggish, depressed or gain weight. Thyroid levels can be measured with a simple blood tests and should be part of your regular physical checkup.
We all need some fat in our diets. In fact, it's virtually impossible to have a fat-free diet as most foods, even fruit and vegetables, provide small amounts of fat. As well as providing the body with a concentrated source of energy, certain components of fat are essential parts of our body cells and are needed to make hormones. Fat also helps to insulate our body and small amounts around the major organs have a protective effect. Several vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) are also fat-soluble and tend to be found in foods with a high fat content.
That said, how much fat is too much? The Department of Health recommends that we get 30 percent of our total daily calories from fat, 55 percent from carbohydrates and 15 percent from protein. Most weight loss plans recommend about 20 percent of calories come from fat.
PSA (prostate-specific antigen) is a substance made by the normal prostate gland and men should track their PSA level regularly. Most men have levels under 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Prostate cancer can cause the level to go up. If your level is between 4 and 10, you have about a 1 in 4 chance of having prostate cancer. If it is above 10, your chance is over 50 percent and goes up as the PSA level goes up. But some men with a PSA below 4 can also have prostate cancer.
Factors other than cancer can also cause the PSA level to go up, including enlargement or infection in the prostate, taking certain drugs, and getting older. Men with a high PSA will need further tests to find out if they actually have cancer.
A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the best way to determine your bone health. BMD tests can identify osteoporosis, determine your risk for broken bones, and measure your response to osteoporosis treatment. The most widely recognized bone mineral density test is called a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DXA test. It is painless and can measure bone density at your hip and spine.
The DXA test compares your bone density to that of an established norm or standard in order to give you a T-score. Although no bone density test is 100 percent accurate, it is the single most important predictor of whether you will have a fracture in the future.
Most commonly, your test results are compared to the ideal bone mineral density of a healthy 30-year-old to give you your T-score. A score of 0 means your BMD is equal to the norm for a healthy young adult. A T-score between +1 and -1 is considered normal and healthy. Differences between your BMD and that of the healthy young adult norm are measured in units called standard deviations (SDs). The more standard deviations below 0, indicated as negative numbers, the lower your BMD and the higher your risk of fracture.
Last but not least, how many hours of sleep should you get? Sleep needs vary, but most experts say most healthy adults need seven to nine hours a night, while some function quite nicely with as little as six hours of sleep.
If you take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, wake up frequently at night, or feel drowsy during the day, you may be creating a sleep deficit that can affect you in ways you don't even realize. If you have problems sleeping that last more than a week, you should talk to your physician.

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