Numbers That Matter

Good Health By The Numbers

Blood Pressure: Ideally, you want your upper, or "systolic," number to be below 120, and your lower "diastolic" number to be below 80. Once the numbers are 130 and 80, or higher, you have high blood pressure. You may not have any symptoms, yet it can damage your heart and blood vessels. Eventually, it can also cause problems with your kidneys, eyes, and sex life.  

 Blood Sugar: When you're healthy, it should be under 100 mg/dL before you eat and less than 140 mg/dL a couple of hours later. (Your doctor will set your targets, which may be a bit higher, when you have diabetes.) Higher glucose levels can lead to long-term damage of your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys. Daily exercise and healthy eating can help bring your blood sugar down.   

Lipid Profile: This set of tests measures different kinds of fats in your blood: "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, "good" (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides. The general rule of thumb is that your total cholesterol score should be less than 200 mg/dL. You want your HDL to be 60 mg/dL or more and your triglycerides below 150 mg/dL. Unhealthy levels could lead to narrow or blocked arteries, heart attack, and stroke.  

Exercise: You should get at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, of moderate exercise (heart is pumping, lungs are working) like walking or gardening. It's best to spread the activity out, over the week and even the day, as long as you're doing it for at least 10 minutes. Make sure that twice a week you're using all your major muscles to keep them strong. Muscles will burn more calories than fat, too, even at rest.   You can do a number on your body if you hit the gym too hard. Overuse can damage joints, tendons, ligaments, and even your heart. Women who exercise too much may start missing periods or speed up the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. How much is too much? If your workouts leave you exhausted or irritable, or if you have a hard time sleeping, eating, or concentrating, it might be time to scale back.   

Screen Time: Limit yourself to 2 hours a day that's not work- or school-related. And  yes, that includes your smartphone. Too much time glued to that device  has led to a new condition called "text neck" that can cause back, neck,  and shoulder pain. Screens in the bedroom can mess with your sleep.  Screens during the day can make you less active and more distracted.  There's even research being done on whether screen time causes brain  damage.

 Seat Time: Even working out an hour a day, 7 days a week, won't undo the unhealthy effects of sitting all day. When you stay seated, your body metabolism slows, so you burn fewer calories. Your muscles and joints stiffen up, and your back may hurt. Get up every 30 minutes or so. Stretch or take a short walk. That's a good way to help you hold onto those hard-earned gains from the gym and possibly live longer.   

Sleep: Adults usually need 7 to 9 hours a night. Our bodies use that time to  fix tissue, make hormones, and grow muscle. Our brains use it to process  the information and learning of the day into memories. Not enough sleep  can make you hungrier -- and make junk food more appealing. Though it  helps to get a bit of extra shut-eye if you haven't had enough, you  can't really make up what you've missed in a night's sleep.  If you  snooze beyond your typical 40 winks, you could do your body more harm  than good. Studies show that more than 8 hours of sleep every night  increases your risk of death from heart problems by 34%. You also can  have trouble with concentration, weight, and blood sugar levels.

Steps: To improve your health and your mood, 10,000 every day is the number you'll hear a lot. But there's nothing magical about it. Anywhere between 4,000 and 18,000 may be good for you. The types of steps you take are important, too. The point is to make sure you're getting enough moderate activity every day. Talk to your doctor about what number makes sense for you. A smartphone app or fitness tracker may help you meet your goal. 

BMI Body mass index: uses your height to gauge if your weight is healthy, but even that's not foolproof. Your body type, ethnic group, and muscle mass can change the meaning of the number. For example, if you start exercising regularly, you may gain weight as you build muscles. When you're trying to lose weight to be healthier, there are other numbers you should pay attention to, too, instead of focusing only on the scale. 

 Waist Size: Breathe out, and wrap a tape measure around yourself midway between your hip bone and ribs. No matter your height or build, if your waist measures more than 40 inches (35 inches for women who aren't pregnant), you probably have extra fat around your heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs. Besides needing a larger pants size, you're more likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and colorectal cancer.   

Seat Time: Even working out an hour a day, 7 days a week, won't undo the unhealthy effects of sitting all day. When you stay seated, your body metabolism slows, so you burn fewer calories. Your muscles and joints stiffen up, and your back may hurt. Get up every 30 minutes or so. Stretch or take a short walk. That's a good way to help you hold onto those hard-earned gains from the gym and possibly live longer.   Do you stay at the office long past quitting time? Maybe you really love what you do -- or maybe you’re a workaholic. If you feel like you should be working all the time and tend to choose work over relationships, that might be you. Remember what they say about all work and no play.   

 Screen Time: Limit yourself to 2 hours a day that's not work- or school-related. And yes, that includes your smartphone. Too much time glued to that device has led to a new condition called "text neck" that can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain. Screens in the bedroom can mess with your sleep. Screens during the day can make you less active and more distracted. There's even research being done on whether screen time causes brain damage.   They make a lot of things easier, but if you can’t stop looking at yours, your smartphone can make your real life harder. It can affect how you relate to people, your mood, your sleep quality, and even your brain chemistry.   Change things up. Schedule different things to do at the times you’re most likely to be on your phone. Set limits on the amount of time you want to spend on it and turn it off when you’re not using it. And seek support -- friends and family can help keep you in check.  

Water: Most people can stay hydrated by drinking water when they're thirsty. To set a baseline, drink at least one glass of water with and between each meal. You may need more if it's hot or dry outside, or when you're pregnant. Drink before you work out, every 10-20 minutes during exercise (depending on the weather and how much you sweat), and within 30 minutes afterward. A glass of water might do the trick instead when you want a snack.   It’s rare, but you can drink too much water. When you do, your kidneys can’t get rid of the extra fluid fast enough. This drops the sodium in your blood to unhealthy levels -- a condition called hyponatremia. It can cause nausea, weakness and fatigue, headache, or, in severe cases, seizures, coma, and death. You’re at higher risk if you’re an athlete who exercises for long stretches of time, like a marathon runner.   

Fruit:  Men and all adults 30 and under should shoot for 2 cups a day. Women over 30 should stick with 1 1/2 cups. What's a "cup"? A small apple, a large banana, a medium pear, 8 big strawberries, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit. If you're more active, you may be able to eat more since you're burning the extra calories. Fruits have lots of nutrients that many people don't get enough of, like vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and folic acid.   You only eat food that’s good for you? Great! But how much do you eat? Overeating causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep problems, and even depression -- no matter what kind of food you put on your plate. And if you take in more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.  

Vegetables:  You need more veggies than fruit each day, 2-3 cups a day, depending on your age and sex. Mix it up throughout the week with dark green (broccoli, spinach, kale), red and orange (tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes), and starchy veggies (corn, potatoes, green peas), as well as beans, peas, and other vegetables (cabbage, onions, zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms). Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried -- raw or cooked -- it all counts. 

 Vitamins: They’ll keep you and your family healthy, right? Maybe not. Too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting, and if you overdo the vitamin C, it can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Too much vitamin A can cause vision problems, among other things. Excess vitamin D can make muscles weak, and it can even lead to heart problems. And vitamins K and E can cause bleeding issues. You and your family should stick to the daily dose, and nothing more.     

Alcohol: Moderation is key: a drink a day for women, two for men. (A drink can be 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.) More than that, and any potential benefits start to fade. And the calories add up. Alcohol can be bad for your liver, kidneys, and heart, and could hurt your baby if you're pregnant. More than four drinks a day or 14 in a week for men, three in a day or seven in a week for women, could signal a problem.  

Cigarettes: Literally, zero. Tobacco causes more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, car accidents, and gun incidents combined. Being a "light" or "social" smoker still isn't OK. Even if you smoke less than five cigarettes a day, you may have early signs of heart disease and other health problems. Ask your doctor about using nicotine gum to help control your appetite while you quit.   

Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill many of the bacteria that cause infection and sickness. So what could be the harm in taking some if you have the sniffles? Turns out, bacteria can change if they’re in contact with antibiotics too often. This makes them resistant to the drugs. Take antibiotics only when you’re sure you need them. 

Handwashing: This is the best way to  keep germs at bay. Suds up too often, though, and your hygiene could actually suffer. Studies show that too much can damage your skin and give germs a place to grow and thrive.   Healthy Food You only eat food that’s good for you? Great! But how much do you eat? Overeating causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep problems, and even depression -- no matter what kind of food you put on your plate. And if you take in more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

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