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Know Your Number

Although you can't change your genetics, you can maintain good health by forming good habits. Everyone knows that diet and exercise are important, but sometimes it's hard to know where to start. Knowing four basic numbers can give you a road map for improving your health and avoiding serious problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and even dementia. Once you begin making healthy lifestyle changes, these numbers can be useful in helping you track your progress. So consult your family doctor to find out where your numbers stand.

blood pressureBlood Pressure
Blood pressure is exactly what it sounds like. When blood is pumped out of your heart, it exerts a force on the walls of your arteries. This force, along with the resistance your arteries exert as the blood passes through them, is what makes up your blood pressure.

When your blood pressure is measured you'll be given two numbers, one "over" the other. The first number is your blood pressure at its highest, or when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second or bottom number is a measurement of your blood pressure at its lowest, between heart beats (diastolic pressure).

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in the bloodstream and in the membranes of every cell of your body. You need a certain amount of cholesterol because your body uses it to make a variety of important substances like vitamin D and bile acids (used in digestion). But it's important to remember that your body already produces all the cholesterol it needs, so any you take in from food is extra.

When you have your cholesterol checked, you'll be given four numbers: total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL.

Fasting Glucose
Glucose (blood sugar) is a form of sugar and your body's main source of energy. Shortly after you eat, glucose is absorbed directly into your bloodstream. It's important that you know your glucose level because it can indicate serious health concerns if outside the normal range, most notably diabetes.

glucoseThere are several ways to check your glucose level, but the most common is the fasting blood glucose test. Your doctor will ask you not to eat or drink anything (except water) for at least eight hours. After the fasting period, they'll draw blood and analyze it to determine your glucose level.

Different tests have different target ranges for their results, but when performing a fasting glucose test, a healthy range is between 70 and 99.

bmiBody Mass Index
Obesity has become an epidemic in the United States and contributes to many chronic ailments, including diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and more. You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) yourself; all you need is your height and weight.

In addition to BMI, it's also important to know your waist circumference. Carrying too much weight around your abdomen can put extra strain on your heart and increase your risk of other health problems. Women should have a waist circumference of less than 35 inches, while men's waist circumference should be less than 40 inches.

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