Be Your Own Valentine and Learn Your Heart Health Numbers

It’s not a very romantic statistic, but heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.  In fact, 1 person dies from heart disease every 34 seconds in the US and the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity due to heart disease is about $229 billion each year.  So, this Valentines Day, how about you show yourself some love and find out if you are at risk for heart disease.  

We all know that the ways to improve your heart health include eating well, exercising, being a non-smoker, sleeping well, and reducing daily stress. But did you know there are 5 values that give a clear picture of your heart health and, better still, will indicate what lifestyle changes you personally can make to lower your risk of heart disease and/or stroke? 

5 Numbers That Indicate Your Heart Health 

Blood Pressure 

Ideal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg 

How to obtain this value: At-home blood pressure cuff 

Blood pressure indicates how hard your blood is pushing against your arteries when your heart contracts (systolic blood pressure, the first number) and relaxes (diastolic blood pressure, the second number). Your blood pressure reflects how hard your heart is working and the condition of your blood vessels. High blood pressure can indicate narrow, inflexible arteries, among other things. 

Why it matters to heart health: High blood pressure can damage your blood vessels, encouraging a buildup of fatty plaque (atherosclerosis), which narrows your vessels and sets the stage for a heart attack. Additionally, high blood pressure forces your heart to work harder, often leading to heart failure. Finally, high blood pressure increases your risk of stroke from a blocked or burst blood vessel in your brain. 

What you can do: Eat a diet rich in potassium (found in many vegetables, fruits, and beans) and low in sodium (found in excess in many processed and restaurant foods). Minimize alcohol. 

LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol) 

Ideal: Less than 70 mg/dL 

How to obtain this value: Blood test while fasting (no food for 12 hours) 

Some of the cholesterol in your blood is made of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The other type of cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is “good” cholesterol and LDL is “bad” cholesterol. 

Why it matters to heart health: Excess LDL particles lodge inside your artery walls. Once there, they are engulfed by white blood cells, forming fat-laden foam cells that block blood flow. The good news is HDL particles are helpful because they act as vessel sweepers and patch damaged vessels, so LDL particles won’t accumulate there.  Decreasing high LDL values and increasing the amount of HDL in your blood will both boost your heart health. 

 
What you can do: Quitting smoking, losing weight and replacing saturated fat (found in meat, dairy, and eggs) with unsaturated fat (found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils) will lower your LDL.  Regular exercise will boost your HDL levels.  

Triglycerides 

Ideal: Less than 150 mg/dL 

How to obtain this value: Blood test while fasting (no food for 12 hours) 

Although less well-known than cholesterol, triglycerides are the most common form of fat in your bloodstream. Derived from food, these molecules provide energy for your body. But excess calories, alcohol, and sugar the body can’t use are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. 

Why it matters to heart health: Like high LDL cholesterol, elevated triglyceride values have been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. One theory is that triglycerides may form deposits and cause blockages in the heart vessels in a similar way to LDL. 

What you can do: Limit foods that are high in unhealthy fats, sugar, or both. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish). Limit alcohol. 

Fasting Blood Sugar 

Ideal: Less than 100 mg/dL (fasting) 

How to obtain this value: Blood test while fasting (no food for 12 hours) 

High blood sugar defines the diagnosis of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most common and occurs when your body develops insulin resistance, where you stop producing enough insulin to escort sugar from your blood into your cells, resulting in consistently high blood sugar. 

Why it matters to heart health: High blood sugar damages blood vessel walls and causes sugar (glucose) to attach to LDL particles, increasing atherosclerosis. Excess sugar in the blood also makes cell fragments called platelets stickier so they’re more likely to form clots, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke. 

What you can do: Avoid sugary beverages and foods high in sugar. Eat whole, unprocessed grains instead of foods made with refined grains (white flour, white rice). 

Waist circumference 

Ideal: Whichever number is lower:   

  • Less than half your height in inches OR  
  • Women: Less than 35 inches; Men: Less than 40 inches  

How to obtain this value: Measure your waist around your bare abdomen just above your belly button. 

Why it matters to heart health: A big belly, hard to the touch, usually indicates that you are storing visceral fat.  Visceral fat is fat that surrounds your internal organs. It secretes hormones and other factors that encourage inflammation, which triggers the release of white blood cells, worsening atherosclerosis. 

What you can do: Consume fewer calories, especially those from highly processed foods full of sugar, salt, and unhealthy types of fat. 

The Bottom Line: 

If one or more of your numbers is above ideal levels, you’re far from alone. Most Americans are overweight or obese and have bigger-than-healthy bellies. Excess weight and waist circumference affect blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar.   
 
To discover your heart health numbers, call Amaze. One of our experienced providers will talk to you about how to obtain these values and will not only discuss and explain the results, but they will also help you determine a path to the healthiest version of yourself; whether that is a visit with our nutrition team, regular visits with our complete care team, or referral to a specialist in your area. Discovering your heart health numbers may be the best Valentines Day gift you could give to yourself and your loved ones.  

At Amaze we want to help you get healthy and stay healthy. If you think Amaze might be able to help, chances are we can. So, please reach out! Connect with a medical provider through your Amaze account or call (720) 577-5251. 

Take care and stay healthy,  

Your Amaze Health Team 

Making Ordinary Care Extraordinary 

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