Going to the doctor for blood work and a pap smear ranks right up there with root canals. I’ll admit to putting it off until I realize that I need to take a spoonful of my own advice that I give to other women as a health coach. Get proactive and know your life-saving numbers. If you do get a physical each year—yeah YOU! You are on top of it! If you don’t see a doctor regularly, this is your friendly reminder to schedule that check-up! Either way, here are six life-saving numbers everyone should know and track.
1) Weight/Body Composition
I know it’s easy to get obsessed with three numbers on a scale, but as a fitness trainer and health coach, I am more interested in body composition than weight. Three women could each weigh 140 and look totally different because of shapes and sizes due to body composition. You can use your weight to get into the range of what’s healthy for you, but keep your focus on body composition—your ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat. Healthy body fat percentages. for men are between 10-25 percent, and for women are between 18-30 percent.(( The University of New Mexico, “Body Composition” http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/underbodycomp.html)) Athletes may have a lower range. If you are over these percentages, an excess accumulation of fat over time can eventually pose serious health risks. Find out your body composition to see if you are in a healthy range. Common methods include skinfold measurements and bioelectrical impedance. Keep in mind that these methods have reported error rates of up to 8 percent. The Bod Pod Composition Tracking System can give you a more accurate percentage with an error rate between 1-2 percent. (You may be surprised to find out that local hospitals or health facilities in your area may have a Bod Pod.
Want to avoid cardiovascular disease? Get your cholesterol checked. Your HDL, the healthy (or good) cholesterol, needs to be 50 or better; your LDL, the unhealthy cholesterol, should be under 100. You can get your good cholesterol up with exercise, and your bad cholesterol down with eating clean. Eat lots of real foods and less processed and packaged. Track your cholesterol numbers and see how healthy you can get them with lifestyle changes. I have helped numerous clients get their cholesterol numbers under control with food. I am not saying that drugs aren’t an option, but my advice is always FOOD as your first line of defense. Your cholesterol numbers are hugely tied to your eating habits so take responsibility.
3) Fasting Blood Sugar
Your fasting blood sugar can tell you if you are at risk for diabetes, and diabetes puts you at risk for a host of other health problems. A fasting blood sugar number above 100 is considered pre-diabetic. This can be a pain to find out because obviously you have to FAST, but it’s worth it. If yours is above 100 you can discuss treatment options with your physician.
4) Vitamin D Level
Vitamin D isn’t just the sunshine vitamin. Research suggests Vitamin D can play a role in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D deficiency ((Mayo Clinic http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/vitamin-d-deficiency)) is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Just ten minutes a day in the sun can give you the Vitamin D you need. Vitamin D is also found in some fish, egg yolks and fortified dairy and grain products. Since it can be challenging to get the Vitamin D you need from food or sun, I take a Vitamin D supplement. (Minnesota winters make it fairly difficult to get out in the sun.) A supplement is such an easy fix. Do consult your doctor if you have questions about how much to take.
5) Blood Pressure
Use this blood pressure chart to see if your blood pressure falls into normal range. The top number–the systolic pressure indicates the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood and it’s the best measurement for hypertension. A systolic reading above 140 is too high and warrants seeing your doctor. A healthy lifestyle can prevent or delay the onset of high blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked at your doctor, local health fairs or at your local drugstore. I actually have a blood pressure cuff at home and it’s come in handy for the whole family.
6) Waist Size
With a large waist size, your risk of dying early increases. Excess belly fat can negatively impact your health in a number of ways. The ideal waist size for women is 32 ½ inches and 35 inches for men. A waist size over 35 inches in women and over 40 inches in men greatly increases the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and more. Use a measuring tape and measure at your waistline which is above your hip bones and below your ribcage but not your beltline.
You can greatly influence each of these six life-saving numbers with healthy lifestyle habits, and it all begins with getting your numbers checked. Your life is worth it!