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Know your numbers to improve heart health

know your numbers

The first step toward improved cardiovascular fitness is knowing the numbers associated with key markers for heart health, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body mass index and waist circumference. Keeping these numbers within a healthy range can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of the blood in your body pushing against the walls of your blood vessels with each heartbeat. The systolic (top) number is the peak blood pressure, occurring each time your heart beats. The diastolic (bottom) is the moment between each beat, when the heart is at rest. A blood pressure lower than 120 over 80 is considered normal, according to the American Heart Association.

Fasting Blood Sugar

Blood glucose refers to the sugar in the bloodstream that comes from the food you eat, primarily carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and fruit. When you eat food, the pancreas releases enzymes that help to break down food and hormones (insulin) that help the body handle the influx of glucose. If the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or your cells have trouble using insulin properly, glucose levels in the blood can rise too high. A fasting blood sugar level of 100 or lower in a person who doesn’t have diabetes is preferred. Chronic high blood glucose levels can lead to complications such as heart disease and diabetes.

Body Mass Index

Body mass index is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. A high BMI can indicate the presence of high body fat that could lead to health problems. People with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese; those with a BMI of 25 - 29.9 are overweight.


LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries, while HDL (high-density lipoprotein) prevents cholesterol buildup. When it comes to total cholesterol, under 200 is desirable; 200 - 239 is borderline; and over 240 is high. For HDL (also called “good cholesterol”), 60 or higher is recommended. For LDL (known as “bad cholesterol”), 100 or lower is desirable; 100 - 129 is good; 130 - 159 is borderline; and 160 or more is high.

Waist Circumference

A large waist circumference is associated with an increased risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes because of excess abdominal fat. To determine your waist circumference, measure at the narrowest point at or above the belly button. Men with waists measuring more than 40 inches and women with waists measuring more than 35 inches are at an increased risk for health problems.

Source: American Heart Association