It is sometimes quoted that numbers make the world go round. Every day we encounter numbers, whether it is dialling a telephone number or telling someone yours, knowing the number of the bus to get to your workplace, entering your PIN number in an ATM or counting how much change you have to buy a pint of milk. However, when it comes to your health, do you know your numbers?
It is imperative to know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels as studies have shown that high levels can be implicated in the aetiology of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. In addition, it is ideal to also know your body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference measurement to see whether they fall within normal ranges. Below are some numbers you should know and ideal ranges to aim for.
Blood pressure level
Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood against your blood vessels. Blood pressure readings are expressed as 2 numbers:
1) Systolic pressure: The first (or top number) which is the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats
2) Diastolic pressure: The second (or bottom number) which is the lowest level your blood pressure reaches as your heart relaxes between beats.
• A normal blood pressure for a healthy adult = 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
• High blood pressure =140/90mmHg or higher
• Low blood pressure = 90/60mmHg or lower
High blood pressure can advance your risk of developing heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia. It can be lowered by cutting down on smoking, reducing salt intake, increasing your physical activity level and getting a good amount of sleep (at least 6 hours).
Blood sugar levels
A high blood sugar level or hyperglycemia can affect individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. However, it is not only individuals with diabetes that can develop hyperglycemia. High blood sugar levels can lead to blurred vision, recurrent skin and bladder infection. For individuals who do not have diabetes it is advised that blood sugar levels should be:
• 3.5-5.5mmol/l before meals
• less than 8mmol/l, two hours after meals.
For those who do have diabetes, target blood sugar level ranges and more information on managing your diabetes can be read here.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance vital for human health. It is made by the liver but can also be found in certain foods like hard margarine, full fat milk, fatty meat and processed meat products and egg yolk.
Cholesterol is transported in your blood by proteins called lipoproteins and there are two main types: high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoprotein (LDLs).
HDLs transports cholesterol away from cells and back to the liver to be broken down or excreted out the body as a waste product.
LDLs transports cholesterol to the cells but if there is too much cholesterol for the cells to use it can cause build up in artery walls resulting in a condition called artheroscheloriss that can lead to heart attack.
• Normal total cholesterol level for most adults =5 mmol/L or less
• Normal LDL level for most adults =be 3 mmol/L or less
• Normal HDL level for most adults =1 mmol/L or more.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Everyone's body weight is different as weight varies with age, gender and height. Your BMI can give you an indication if your weight is within the healthy range. For most adults the ideal BMI is between 18.5 to 24.9.
Having said this, for adults of South Asian origin, an ideal BMI is between 18.5-22.9, in which a BMI of 23 or more is above the ideal range. The reason why the BMI ranges for South Asian individuals is different from the general population is because South Asians are at a higher risk of being overweight and obese. They are also at risk of comorbidities of obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In some cases, however, BMI may not be the best measurements for certain individuals. Some individuals may have a high muscle mass which often makes them fall into the overweight/obese category.
Studies have shown that excess fat around the waist can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Taking waist measurements has been established to be a good indicator of disease risk in comparison to BMI. Thus, irrespective of your BMI, you ought to try to lose weight if your waist is:
• 94 cm (37 inches) for most adult men, 90cm (35inches) for South Asian men
• 80cm (31.5 inches) for women
If you are trying to lose weight, NHS Choices have a great 12-week weight loss plan with dietary advice and physical activity tips.
Regular check ups with your healthcare professional is a must to assess your health status, identify any risks of health conditions and sought after ways to reduce them.