Our bodies are basically machines; the heart pumps blood through our veins, and our brains are like on-board computers, processing and storing information and monitoring our organs. So what happens as the machine ages?
Think about what happens when the hard drive of the computer you’ve had for seven years starts to make an alarming clunking noise or you’ve had to replace the brakes on your ten year-old car several times. The older the machinery gets, the more maintenance it requires.
Our bodies work much the same way. We often find ourselves obsessing a lot about age, making observations like “He’s pushing 40” or “she looks great for 75,” but age isn’t the only numeric indicator of health and longevity. HelloHeart, a company that manufactures a blood pressure monitoring app for smartphones, encourages everyone to learn about and keep an eye on key health-related numbers once you’ve passed 40, so whether you’re over the hill or puffing your way toward the crest of it, knowing these six numbers will help you to maintain your health.
1. Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is the number one indicator of how well your heart is functioning. Blood pressure refers to the pressure in your arteries as blood flows through them. The measurement consists of two numbers. The first number, systolic blood pressure, refers to the amount of pressure present when your heart beats. The second number, your diastolic blood pressure, refers to the amount of pressure present when the heart muscle relaxes between beats.
When your blood pressure reads as “120 over 80,” for instance, the top number refers to systolic pressure, and the bottom number refers to diastolic pressure. According to the American Heart Association, while posture and activity level can affect blood pressure, the systolic pressure reading should typically be below 120 and the diastolic below 80; 115 over 75 would be ideal. The AHA also reports that approximately one in three Americans has high blood pressure, and it’s recommended that you contact your physician if your systolic pressure exceeds 140 or your diastolic pressure reaches 90.
2. Resting heart rate
Remember that your blood pressure can fluctuate depending on posture or level of activity, so when you’re relaxing, so should your heart. As the term indicates, your resting heart rate should be less rapid than when you’re active; a healthy resting heart rate is approximately 6 beats per minute. Keeping in mind the above points about blood pressure, a rapidly beating heart while at rest can indicate high blood pressure.
3. Cholesterol levels
Cholesterol levels measure the amount of fat in your blood. Like everything else, we need a certain amount of fat in the blood, but not too much. According to Jenna Lindsey Channell, you should avoid trans-fats and saturated fats. Unsaturated fats, however, are an important part of your diet because they’re required for absorbing certain vitamins like A, E, B, and K.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and HDL (high-density lipoprotein). LDL is the “bad fat”—essentially plaque in your arteries. When it builds up, it creates blockages that prevent blood from flowing and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. HDL is the “good fat,” and it works to regulate LDL levels and keep your arteries clear. The fat that is stored in the body for energy after eating is called triglycerides.
Together, your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride numbers create what’s called your “lipid profile score.” Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), a unit of measurement that indicates the concentration of a substance in your blood. Desired levels will vary based on whether or not you’re at high risk for heart disease. The normal desired LDL level is below 100 if you’re not at risk for heart disease and below 70 if heart disease is a high health risk. If you have no risk factors like high blood pressure or heart disease, 100-129 is generally considered a healthy level; a number over 190 is considered high. While your LDL level shouldn’t get too high, your HDL level shouldn’t drop too low; remember that you need HDL, or “good” cholesterol in your blood to keep your arteries clean. 60 or above is usually a healthy HDL level. For men, an unhealthy level is below 40 and for women below 50. A triglyceride level of 150 is average; below 100 is ideal. Triglyceride levels over 200 are considered high.
4. Blood sugar
Blood sugar measures the amount of glucose (a type of sugar found in carbohydrates) present in your blood. Glucose serves as the main source of your body’s energy. Blood sugar levels will usually fluctuate, increasing after you’ve eaten. If your glucose level rises and remains high over an extended period of time, it can damage your blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and nerves.
If you have high glucose levels, blood sugar tests can help to detect diabetes, and an A1C test will provide an index of your average blood sugar levels over the past three or four months, which will give a broader, more representative picture of glucose fluctuations than a “spot test.” The A1C test measures what percentage of hemoglobin (a protein in your blood that carries oxygen) contains glucose. A healthy glucose level from a fasting blood sugar test (FBS) should fall below 100 mg/dl and not lower than 40 mg/dl. . A healthy reading from an A1C test should be less than 7.0%.
5. C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
CRP levels in your blood indicate the amount of inflammation in your blood vessels. It’s important to keep an eye on this number because there are often no symptoms associated with high CRP and therefore it can be a “silent killer.” High CRP levels are often associated with conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. A blood draw and lab test can check your CRP levels. A normal, healthy CRP level should fall below 1.0 mg/dl; a number above 3.0 mg/dl can indicate risk for heart disease.
6. Waist size
In addition to your weight and BMI (body mass index, which measures your weight relative to your height), your waist size can also indicate your overall health. Waist size is also the easiest to measure because you don’t need to go to a doctor or schedule any tests. You just need a tape-measure. For an accurate measurement, measure your waist size at bellybutton height. For women, a healthy waist size is less than 36 inches; for men, it’s less than 40. Numbers higher than these can increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
As we age, we become increasingly preoccupied about numbers, but instead of counting your gray hairs or the number of wrinkles that seem to have popped up overnight, keep an eye on these six numbers to help maintain a healthy heart!