Heart health by the numbers
If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions consisted of losing weight, dropping a pants size or simply eating better. Those are all great resolutions, but if you’re resolutions are already falling by the way side, you may need to rethink your approach.
Greg Egnaczyk, MD , a board-certified cardiologist with The Ohio Heart and Vascular Center , a physician practice of The Christ Hospital , recommends getting back on the bandwagon by tracking your heart-health numbers, including cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. “The only way for people to make an impact on their numbers is to know what they’re dealing with. That starts at the doctor’s office with a few simple screenings,” he says.
Here are the numbers that matter most to heart health and how healthy lifestyle choices can improve each.
Goal: Total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL, LDL below 150 mg/dL, HDL above 40 mg/dL (men) or 50 mg/dL (women), and Triglycerides below 150 mg/dL.
Our bodies need cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much of it can lead to heart attack and stroke. There are three components to cholesterol:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) is a vehicle that transports cholesterol to your arteries where it collects, hardens and can lead to clots.
Control it by: Trying a low saturated fat, trans fat-free and low-cholesterol diet.
Foods high in these substances speed up arthrosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and low-fat dairy.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) is like the vacuum cleaner that carries LDL cholesterol to the liver.
Control it by: Exercising daily and eating more omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3, found in fish, nuts, avocados and fortified foods, can actually raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. Adding just 30 minutes of cardio to your daily routine can also boost HDL.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. Excess calories from food are converted into triglycerides. “Fats are one of the building blocks of plaque formation in the heart’s arteries,” Dr. Egnaczyk says.
Control it by: Increasing your dietary fiber and cutting calories.
Eating between 25 and 35 grams of fiber per day can lower cholesterol, curb overeating, and stabilize blood sugar and insulin. To maintain weight, men should consume 2,500 calories or less each day, and women should aim for 2,000 calories or less each day.
Goal: Blood pressure of 120/80, checked at least annually.
According to a 2010 Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey, hypertension is the most prevalent chronic condition in the region. A high-sodium diet, smoking and extra pounds can lead to consistently high blood pressure. This puts stress on the heart, causing the muscle to thicken and work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
Control it by: Eliminating excess salt from your diet.
“Salt makes us retain fluid; the more fluid we have in our bodies, the harder it is for our heart to work,” Dr. Egnaczyk says. Cut your salt intake to 2,300 milligrams a day, or about one teaspoon, by avoiding the saltshaker and packaged and processed foods.
Goal: Fasting blood sugar level of 100 ml/dL or lower.
Elevated blood sugar levels inflame the body’s blood vessels and arteries and lead to heart disease. Eating high-glycemic index foods (refined sugars and carbohydrates) causes spikes in blood sugar and weight gain. “These foods will actually cause you to eat more and gain more weight than if you had ones that were low-glycemic,” Dr. Egnaczyk says.
Control it by: Taking inventory of your diet.
Use an online calculator  to figure out the glycemic index of your favorite foods, or examine the nutrition facts label . Foods with fewer grams of sugar and more grams of fiber per serving (listed under total carbohydrates) are generally better choices.
BODY MASS INDEX
Goal: BMI of 25 or less.
Being overweight or obese can lower your HDL cholesterol levels and increase LDL levels. Fortunately, losing weight can do the opposite. Calculate your BMI .
Control it by: Managing food portions and staying active.
Diet and exercise are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. During meals, fill half your plate with veggies and split the other half between lean protein and whole grains. When dining out, choose a restaurant with heart-healthy options . Find tips to stay fit in Cincinnati .
See how your heart health stacks up. Find a physician who can help by calling 877-904-4YOU.