When it comes to prevention and, if need be, damage control, your numbers relating to blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference tell a story about your risk factors for illness and disease – so this is maths worth swotting up on.
The numbers game
Altogether, these five tests tell a story about your risk factors for illness and disease, such as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers. While family history, gender and age can certainly impact the numbers, our habits and lifestyle choices also play a huge role. Not finger‐pointing here folks, just saying you have more power than you realise to control your health journey! For more information, visit these organisations, as well as your GP: diabetesaustralia.com.au, heartfoundation.org.au and strokefoundation.com.au.
Not a diet, a lifestyle
If you’re looking to kickstart your healthy life, check out the Weight Watchers program. No foods are off limits, ever, and the ProPoints system offers an ingenious way to tailor meals, snacks and treats within your personal ProPoints ‘budget’. There’s so much wiggle room you’ll never feel deprived. For under $15 per week you get 24/7 access to online coaching, as well as more traditional group coaching, thousands of recipes and the mobile app. Pay a little more and you’ll receive one-on-one weekly phone coaching. This proven plan continues to help millions. Find out more at weightwatchers.com.au.
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the bloodstream. While it has many important functions in the body, too much spells trouble for your arteries and heart. Not all cholesterol is the same though! LDL (low density lipoprotein) is the bad guy, while HDL (high density lipoprotein) is the good guy. The guidelines for normal levels are less than 3.5 mmol/L for LDL and greater than 1 mmol/L (men) or 1.3 mmol/L (women) for HDL. Total blood cholesterol levels above 5.5 mmol/L indicate a greatly increased risk of developing heart disease. Your GP will advise how often you should have this blood test.
As your heart pumps, your blood rises and falls in rhythmic waves against the inner walls of your arteries. It rises when your heart pumps (systolic) and falls when it relaxes again (diastolic). Although this pressure can vary from minute to minute depending on different factors (stress, exercise, body position, sleep), doctors use the following numbers as a guide. If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, you may be prescribed medication to help control it or be advised to lose weight, not smoke, eat a healthier diet and exercise more.
• Low less than 90/60
• Normal less than 120/80
• High/normal between 120/80 and 140/90
• High 140/90 or above
• Very high 180/110 or above.
If blood pressure is an issue for you, an automatic monitor can help you track your numbers. There are plenty available (search for ‘sphygmomanometer’ or ask your pharmacist) but before you start using one, have your GP check it for accuracy and show you how.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI is used to assess whether you’re obese, overweight, underweight or in a normal weight range for your height. The formula for calculating BMI is your weight in kilos divided by your height in metres squared (or just use an online BMI calculator).
• Underweight below 18.5
• Healthy range 18.5–24.9
• Overweight 25–29.9
• Obese above 30
But this doesn’t take into account factors such as ethnicity, body fat distribution and muscle mass, so use BMI along with other indicators.
Blood glucose levels
Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate how the body uses and stores glucose. Keeping levels steady is vital for wellbeing. In type 2 diabetes, the cells don’t respond to insulin properly (insulin resistance) and the pancreas produces inadequate insulin for the body’s increased needs. Glucose builds up in the blood instead of getting into cells for energy. It’s the most common form of diabetes and while it can be genetic, lifestyle habits (chiefly diet and exercise) can effect it enormously.
One in four Aussies with type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it (around a quarter of a million of us). It can go undiagnosed for years, upping the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, circulatory problems and vision loss.
The number to know here is your ‘fasting blood glucose’ – the level of sugar in your blood after you’ve had nothing to eat or drink for eight hours. Your GP may refer you for this blood test as part of a regular check-up.
• The normal range for fasting blood glucose is 3–5.5 mmol/L.
• A repeated reading over 7 mmol/L will raise red flags and may indicate diabetes.
• The normal range for non-fasting blood glucose is 3–7.8 mmol/L.
This one’s easy to work out, so grab your tape measure.
Excess fat around your middle increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
• Adult women
Increased risk: more than 80cm
Greatly increased risk: more than 88cm
• Adult men
Increased risk: more than 94cm
Greatly increased risk: more than 102cm