Men's Health, Women's Health, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

Three Numbers That Tell You How Your Heart Is Doing

Maintaining a healthy heart might seem like a complicated task, but it really boils down to knowing – and monitoring – three numbers:

  1. Cholesterol
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Body mass index (BMI)

Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a type of fat that circulates in your blood. It comes from two main sources: your body – primarily your liver – and from the foods you eat. Cholesterol itself isn't bad. In fact, it is needed in every cell of your body. It also is vital in producing some hormones and digestive acids. However in excess, or in the setting of inflammation, cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls. This clogs the arteries, making it harder for your heart to circulate blood and can increase your risk of heart disease. To determine your cholesterol levels, a simple blood test is given by your doctor. Your test results measure four things:
  • Total cholesterol
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). This is what’s known as the “bad” type of cholesterol that lays down fat deposits in your arteries. You want this level to be "L"ow
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL). This is the “good” type of cholesterol that carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver. You want this level to be "H"igh
  • Triglycerides. These are fatty substances that your liver makes from the foods you eat. This numbers rises when you consume too many carbohydrates
Here are the healthy ranges for cholesterol levels: Category                             Healthy Levels (mg/dL) Total cholesterol                  Below 200 LDL                                        Below 100 HDL                                       50 or higher for men, 60 or higher for women Triglyceride                           Below 150

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. Most everyone has received a blood pressure test in a doctor’s office, and though you may hear your blood pressure is “120 over 80,” do you really know what those numbers mean and why they’re important to your heart health? Systolic The top number – systolic pressure – measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts, or beats. Diastolic The bottom number – diastolic pressure – measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood. Your blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day, based on your activity level, but generally it stays the same when you are sitting or standing still. When you hear your blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office, remember the categories below to determine your heart health:
  • Normal blood pressure is below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic
  • Pre-hypertension is 120 to 139 systolic and/or 80 to 89 diastolic
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is 140 or higher systolic and 90 or higher diastolic


Afraid to step on the scale? You shouldn't be. Knowing your weight, and keeping track of it, will also help you manage your heart health. As your weight increases, your risks grow for many illnesses, including heart disease and hypertension. Your BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Search BMI on the Internet, and you’ll find a host of online calculators that can help you determine your BMI number. Ideally, your BMI should be less than 25. A number between 25 and 30 is considered overweight and over 30 is obese. “These three factors are critical to maintaining heart health and in turn, to living a longer, healthier life,” says Geoffrey Rose, MD, FACC, FASE, chief of cardiology with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. Dr. Rose says the following actions have the greatest positive impact on the three key numbers:
  • Daily exercise
  • Eating more heart-healthy foods like fruits and vegetables
  • Reducing intake of simple carbohydrates and fatty foods
“I encourage everyone to maintain a healthy weight, find ways to reduce daily stress, and if you do smoke – quit. If you take care of your heart, generally you’ll require less medication and less medical care as you age,” says Dr. Rose. “And, you’ll enjoy a much better overall quality of life.” A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love.  Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.