Heart Health: Know Your Numbers

Today is the last “normal” Heart Health Installment, and it is FULL of information :) Don’t worry – there’s one more tomorrow!

One thing everyone needs to focus on is Knowing Your Numbers.

These numbers include cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and your weight.

Keeping track of these numbers is a good thing to do, especially if heart disease does run in your family. I just had my first ever “physical” in January so I could get all my numbers now. That way, if things change, I know where they started and we can figure out what is going on.

First, Cholesterol. According to the AHA,

It may surprise you to know that cholesterol itself isn’t bad. In fact, cholesterol is just one of the many substances created and used by our bodies to keep us healthy. Some of the cholesterol we need is produced naturally (and can be affected by your family health history), while some of it comes from the food we eat.

There are two types of cholesterol: “good” and “bad.” It’s important to understand the difference, and to know the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol comes from two sources: your body and food. Your liver and other cells in your body make about 75 percent of blood cholesterol. The other 25 percent comes from the foods you eat.

LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. When too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

LDL cholesterol is produced naturally by the body, but many people inherit genes from their mother, father or even grandparents that cause them to make too much. Eating saturated fat, trans fats and dietary cholesterol also increases how much you have. If high blood cholesterol runs in your family, lifestyle modifications may not be enough to help lower your LDL blood cholesterol. Everyone is different, so work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that’s best for you.

Cholesterol can’t dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result.

HDL (good) Cholesterol
About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack. Low levels of HDL (less than 40 mg/dL) also increase the risk of heart disease. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it’s passed from the body. Some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.

How do you know if your cholesterol levels are optimal?

  • You want your TOTAL cholesterol (LDL + HDL) to be less than 200 mg/dL
  • You want your LDL to be less than 100 mg/dL (optimal) or at least between 100 -129 mg/dL
  • You want your HDL to be higher than 60 mg/dL

Next, Blood Pressure. The AHA is a wealth of information!  :)

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries.

Blood pressure results from two forces. One is created by the heart as it pumps blood into the arteries and through the circulatory system. The other is the force of the arteries as they resist the blood flow.

What do blood pressure numbers indicate?

  • The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body.
  • The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats.

The systolic pressure is always stated first. For example: 118/76 (118 over 76); systolic = 118, diastolic = 76.Blood pressure below 120 over 80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) is considered optimal for adults. A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 mmHg or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 mmHg is considered “prehypertension” and needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading of 140 over 90 or higher is considered elevated (high).

How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. That’s why it’s called the “silent killer.” Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. It doesn’t refer to being tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have high blood pressure.

A single elevated blood pressure reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure, but it’s a sign that further observation is required. Ask your doctor how often to check it or have it checked. Certain diseases, such as kidney disease, can cause high blood pressure. In 90 to 95 percent of cases, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown.

The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked. Your doctor or other qualified health professional should check your blood pressure at least once every two years, or more often if necessary.

Optimal blood pressure with respect to cardiovascular risk is less than 120/80 mm Hg. However, unusually low readings should be evaluated to rule out medical causes.

Third, Triglycerides. The AHA defines triglycerides as

a form of fat made in the body. Elevated triglycerides can be due to overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of total calories or more). People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL (bad) level and a low HDL (good) level. Many people with heart disease and/or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. They’re also present in blood plasma and, in association with cholesterol, form the plasma lipids.

Triglycerides in plasma are derived from fats eaten in foods or made in the body from other energy sources like carbohydrates. Calories ingested in a meal and not used immediately by tissues are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue so they meet the body’s needs for energy between meals.

How is an excess of triglycerides harmful?

Excess triglycerides in plasma is called hypertriglyceridemia. It’s linked to the occurrence of coronary artery disease in some people. Elevated triglycerides may be a consequence of other disease, such as untreated diabetes mellitus. Like cholesterol, increases in triglyceride levels can be detected by plasma measurements. These measurements should be made after an overnight food and alcohol fast.

A normal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dL. Borderline would be between 150 -199.

And lastly, weight. I know.

The best thing you can do to help prevent heart disease (as well as many other health issues) is to maintain a healthy weight – honestly! Yo-yo-ing up and down is not good on our bodies (or our mental and emotional health).We know that having excess fat, especially around the stomach/waist area, gives you a  higher risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Find ways to enjoy your life, your food, your activity and maintain a pretty consistent weight. Yes, that will include weighing yourself every now and then, but it doesn’t have to be every day. The most important thing is to make sure you are being active on a regular basis and eating those healthy superfoods that make your heart healthier and your body work the way it’s supposed to work.

I think if you’re doing those 2 things, your weight will eventually level out in a range that is easy for you to maintain, which is what you want. Find your happy weight and keep up all your good work to stay there  :)

Not really numbers, but a few other things to quickly touch on that are also important in heart health:

  • Don’t smoke – duh  :)  It’s not good for any part of you – your heart, lungs, skin, nails, teeth, anything! If you do, find a way to quit. You’ll feel so much better and cut your risk of heart disease, as well as other health issues. PLUS, you’ll save money! Another bonus in this economy.
  • Manage your stress in healthy ways. This can be a hard one sometimes! Find ways to get your frustrations out – exercising, painting, singing, cooking, taking a bath, reading – anything that is a healthy outlet for your stress. The less stress in your body, the less stress on your heart. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, and feel better in your everyday life if you have good ways of expressing your stress.

I’m really looking forward to my last heart health post tomorrow! This has been so much fun for me, and I have learned a lot! Thank you for all your interest, comments, and questions – I really appreciate all of them, and look forward to doing other health series in the future!


Fun Blog Stuff:

– Check out Megan’s cool Baking Tag Giveaway!

– Hurry up and enter Angela’s 30 Day Shred giveaway!

BSI entries due by Sunday – I better get cookin’  :)

Do you know your numbers?


  1. So exciting!! You should keep this up for another week :-D

  2. I found out last year that I had high cholesterol. I was only getting my blood sugar tested since my twin sister is diabetic, and just at the last minute asked if they could check my cholesterol too.

    Imagine my surprise when my doctor called me and said my Triglycerides were 410!! (Supposed to be below 150!) He called in a prescription on the spot!

    I’ve been taking cholesterol medecine for almost a year, and my numbers are at a normal range.

    The one thing about high cholesterol is that you don’t feel sick, and if I hadn’t gotten it checked, it could have led to some serious problems. All they do is take a sample of blood, it takes 2 minutes. So, if you’ve never checked it before, I highly recommend it.

    Good post!

    • Thanks Jennifer! What a great example – that’s the scary thing about most of these, for sure. You don’t necessarily “feel” sick at all, but it’s definitely worth getting checked out.

  3. I’ve always wondered what the hell good cholesterol meant but never looked it up hahah. Thanks! :)

  4. Great info, high blood pressure runs in my family, so it’s nice to know ways to prevent it, and exactly what it means. Thanks!

  5. love your heart health posts :-)

  6. I know the range that most of my numbers are in. I have high LDL and have to take meds to keep it under control :( But I am healthy as a whip when it comes to blood pressue and my weight, well, I am working on that :)

  7. I don’t know my numbers — I need to pay more attention obviously. Thanks once again for all the info!

  8. Excellent information.

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