Numbers tell us a lot. We use clocks to tell time and speedometers to tell us our speed. So, it makes sense that we use numbers to learn more about ourselves.
“Numbers help us estimate a person’s risk for heart attacks and strokes as they get older,” says Chris Henderson, MD, family medicine physician at Altru. “Type 2 diabetes is also becoming more prevalent in our population, so early screening and identifying people at risk can help prevent a very long list of complications, such as heart attacks and strokes, but also eye problems, kidney problems and issues that can lead to losing limbs to infection or blood flow issues.”
While an annual checkup can get you all the numbers you will need, it’s important to have a conversation with your primary care provider about what the values mean for you.
“Together, we can look at your full health picture and determine the best way for you to maintain or improve your health,” Dr. Henderson says.
Know Your Numbers
These key numbers help your provider better understand your health. Here’s what they are, and how they can help your provider treat you:
1. Blood Pressure
Screen for heart disease. A blood pressure cuff reads systolic (maximum) and diastolic (minimum) pressure in your arteries.
What it tells your doctor: Blood pressure tests measure how hard your heart is working. Aim for less than 140/90 mmHg.
2. Blood Sugar
Screen for diabetes with a fasting blood glucose test.
What it tells your doctor: Elevated or high levels of glucose (100–125 or 126 mg/dL or higher) can indicate prediabetes or diabetes.
Screen for potential heart disease with a fasting blood test.
What it tells your doctor: Total cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or less is healthy. High blood cholesterol can indicate hardening of the arteries and heart disease risk.
4. Body Mass Index (BMI)
Determine a healthy body weight. Weight and height values are plugged into a formula to yield a two-digit number.
What it tells your doctor: Comparing your result to the BMI chart, your doctor may suggest ways to gain or lose weight.
These measurements can offer a better understanding, but they are not the end-all be-all of a person’s health. Family medical history and tobacco use are other factors providers consider when determining risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of regular exercise, good diet and plenty of sleep—six to eight hours for most adults,” Dr. Henderson says. “Together, we can look at your full health picture and talk through lifestyle changes you can make that can improve your numbers with minimal or no medications needed.”
Keep tabs on your numbers with regular visits to your primary care provider. Don’t have one? Find a provider who’s right for you at altru.org/providers.