We’re all in for the saying that age is just a number, but numbers matter when you’re a certain age.
What it all adds up to is this: 1 person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease.
And this: The no. 1 cause of death for women is cardiovascular disease.
Add it up and the sum total is especially concerning, especially during the menopausal years, when our risk of heart disease multiplies. #stopwiththemathpunsalready
While we can’t change our age or our family history, there are numbers we can influence. Here’s what you need to know.
Cholesterol is made by the liver and used to help your body build new cells, insulate nerves and produce hormones. But certain foods can deposit more cholesterol in your body than it needs, putting you at risk for heart disease.
An LDL (low-density lipoproteins) of less than 100 is optimal, as is an HDL (high-density lipoproteins) of 60 or higher.
WebMD does a good job of charting out how to interpret your cholesterol numbers, which has become a competition in my household. (Why are my husband’s numbers so much lower than mine when my eating habits are so much better? Sometimes, it’s just a matter of genetics, dammit, but also, gender: women consistently experience worse values after midlife than men, according to research.).
Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Because it usually has no symptoms, its moniker is the “silent killer.” But there can be warning indicators like dizziness, vision problems and frequent headaches.
The range defining high blood pressure has trickled downward in recent years: A reading between 120/80 mmHg and 129/80 mmHg is now considered “elevated.”
A healthy diet and a healthy weight are just two ways to prevent and manage high blood pressure. (Click here and here to go deeper.) Once again, our gender pushes this number up, especially after menopause, to levels even higher than in men, according to studies.
Your Waist Circumference
Aside from making it tough to button your pants, too much weight around the middle puts you at increased risk for heart disease. Measuring your waist is easy, getting yourself to do it, maybe not so much. But it’s an important number to know.
Wrap a tape measure around your waist, about belly button level and that’s it. Also helpful to know: your waist-to-hip ratio, which is the size of your belly compared to your hips. This one is simple math: divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. A desirable ratio is 0.8 or lower.
Your Steps Per Day
Do we really need to walk 10,000 a day? Sometimes it’s tough to reach that number, especially when we’re limited to our home/workspace. This goal originated back in 1965, when it was promoted by a Japanese company as a marketing pitch for Manpo-kei, pedometer-like device. Recent research from Harvard Medical School begs to differ, however, citing evidence that 4,400 steps are enough each to make a big impact on our heart’s health.
Another heart-healthy number to consider: 150 minutes of exercise each week. Still daunting? Consider this easy equation: some exercise is better than none.
Your sleep log
When you sleep, your body repairs itself. Getting too little hurts your health, especially your blood pressure. That’s because while you sleep, blood pressure goes down (a good thing). Too little sleep and your blood pressure remains higher for a longer period of time, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
The sweet spot for sleep seems to be between seven and nine hours of sleep, say experts.
These fats come from the food we eat and are carried in our blood. They differ from cholesterol in that they are fats, where cholesterol is not. When elevated, triglyceride levels increase the risk of heart disease.
Triglyceride levels are measured in a blood test called a Lipid Profile. Since they usually go up after you eat, it’s best to wait about 12 hours after eating or drinking to have them measured.
Diet plays a big role in triglyceride levels; however, they can be higher than normal because of certain medications, your thyroid function, poorly controlled diabetes or liver or kidney disease. Normal levels should be under 150 mg/dl.
The Cleveland Clinic offers a good triglyceride overview here.
People with high blood sugar face a higher risk of diabetes — and diabetes, in turn, can damage arteries, putting you at risk for cardiovascular disease.
A fasting glucose level of 100 mg/dL or less is a good number to aim for. Losing weight, exercising, eating a diet rich in veggies, fruits and whole grains and limiting refined carbs and sugars can help get you there.
Consider these numbers at your next check-up and be sure to ask your doctor to check you math. This is one test we all want to pass. #onemoremathpun
For a Pause
You know the feeling when you walk into a room that smells so good: your pulse slows and your mood brightens? Us too. Here are some picks for you. You’ll love them and your heart will too.
You know a good diet is key for heart health, but what exactly does that mean? Take a look at these 25 heart-healthy cooking tips and you’ll be one beat closer to better eating.
Happiness is good for our hearts. In case you need a reminder to do what makes you happy (c’mon, we all deserve that!), here you go.
Did you know that your heart has the ability to beat over 3 billion times throughout your lifetime? (Don’t feel badly, we didn’t either.) That and more fun facts to ponder can be found here.
One more thing
What do you get when you cross a number with 80s pop?
Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
See you next time!
Everybody needs a place to rest.
— Hungry Heart, Bruce Springsteen
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