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Do you know your health numbers? Here are 5 that matter.

JUN 10, 2016
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We’ve all heard our doctors read off numbers from our charts. You know they’re important, but do you know what they really mean?


Read on to learn more, and find out what you can do to stay in a healthy range.


1. Blood pressure


Healthy blood pressure helps to protect you from heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.


Lifestyle decisions can help you achieve a healthy blood pressure. These include:

  • Staying at a healthy weight or losing extra weight
  • Eating heart-healthy foods and limiting sodium
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women

The following blood pressure goals are recommended for adults who aren’t pregnant and don’t have heart failure:

 If you are:  Your target blood pressure is:
 18-59 years old; or over 60 years old and  have diabetes or certain types of kidney  problems  Below 140/90
 Over 60 years old and don’t have diabetes  or certain types of kidney problems  Below 150/90

2. Cholesterol


A healthy cholesterol level helps reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke.


Certain foods raise cholesterol, while others help lower it. Exercising and not smoking can also help you control your cholesterol.


Total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL is generally considered high.


All people over 40 years old who have diabetes should consider taking a statin medication to lower cholesterol. Doctors base treatment decisions on your overall risk for heart attack and stroke, not just on your cholesterol level. Decide with your doctor what’s best for you.


3. Waist size


Waist size is one way to measure abdominal fat. By carrying less fat around your midsection, you can decrease your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.


To measure your waist, wrap a tape measure around your midsection just above your hip bones. It’s important to measure correctly, so we suggest using the step-by-step directions on


Your risks are lower if your waist measurement is less than:


  • 40 inches (men)
  • 35 inches (women)

Note: For people of South Asian, Chinese, Japanese, South American, and Central American descent to lower their risks, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) suggests a waist measurement of less than 35 inches for men and 31 inches for women.


4. Body mass index


Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation based on your height and weight that can help determine if you’re at a healthy weight, underweight, or overweight. You can quickly calculate BMI using our interactive tools for adults and children ages 2-19.


The guidelines in the table below are for adults:

 BMI  What it means (for most people)
 Below 19  At risk for being underweight
 19-24.9  Healthy range
 25-29.9  At risk for being overweight and developing weight-related health  conditions
 30 or above  At risk for obesity and developing weight-related health conditions

As your BMI gets higher, you have a greater risk of some diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.


While BMI is part of your health, it doesn’t show the full picture. It’s important to keep a few points in mind when thinking about BMI:

  • As we age, we often lose muscle mass and gain fat. An elderly person might fall into the “normal” range, but still have too much body fat because BMI can’t tell what’s fat and what’s muscle.
  • Where you carry your extra weight matters, even if you fall into the “normal” range. Abdominal fat can put you at risk for serious health issues.
  • The healthy BMI range may be lower for certain ethnic groups, especially people of Asian descent, according to research.

5. Blood sugar (for people with diabetes) 


Home blood sugar test

By checking your blood sugar (also called blood glucose) and taking action to stay in the target range most of the time, you can help to keep your blood sugar from getting too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).

 Time of day  Target range
 Before meals  80 to 130 mg/dL
 2 hours after meals  Less than 180 mg/dL
 At bedtime  100 to 160 mg/dL

These are general ranges for people who are aiming for an A1c below 7% (see below). You and your doctor may want to adjust them based on your age, how long you’ve had diabetes, if you have other conditions that affect your health risks, or if you have complications or difficulty with low blood sugar.


Hemoglobin A1c lab test

Hemoglobin A1c, sometimes called HbA1c, also measures blood sugar. Unlike the home test, which tells you your blood sugar at the time you take it, the hemoglobin A1c test tells you your average levels over the past 3 months.


This test helps you and your doctor understand your long-term control of your blood sugar, which indicates how well you’re managing your diabetes.

 If you are:  Your target A1c is:
 Under 65 years old with no cardiovascular  health problems or diabetes complications  Below 7%
 Over 65 years old; or younger than 65 and  have cardiovascular health problems or  diabetes complications  Below 8%



TOPICSBlood Pressureblood sugarBMIcholesterolwaist size