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Your Heart Health: 13 Numbers Everyone Should Know
By Sarah Baldauf, USNews.com Thu, Feb 03, 2011
A long life free of heart disease does not come just from controlling the standard measures like blood pressure and cholesterol. Sure, keeping tabs on these indicators is essential to gauging your heart's health, but a few other numbers —some surprising— can be meaningful as well. It's awareness worth having. The American Heart Association noted in its annual review for 2010 that while the death rate due to cardiovascular disease in the United States fell between 1996 and 2006, the burden of the disease is still high. More than 1 in 3 deaths was related to heart disease in 2006. U.S. News consulted with cardiology experts to round up the target numbers you should strive for to keep your ticker in good working condition over the long haul.
1. Alcohol intake
Those fond of tipple may be dismayed, but the science on alcohol as an agent to promote heart health is just not definitive. "If you have heart disease, alcohol plays no role in your medicine cabinet; if [you do] not, alcohol is not the right way to reduce your risk," says Jonathan Whiteson, director of the Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program at New York University Langone Medical Center. Some research has suggested that drinking red wine may increase one's HDL, or "good" cholesterol, but Whiteson notes that the boost is minimal. "Exercise [offers] a better increase in HDL," he says. While he's not against a drink in a social setting, it's certainly not something folks—especially those with heart disease—should engage in with the idea that it will offer a heart benefit, says Whiteson. In fact, medications' effectiveness can be either hampered or heightened by alcohol, sometimes to a dangerous extent. (Common herbal supplements can interact with heart drugs, too). And drinking too much can lead to high blood pressure or increased blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat. Bottom line: The American Heart Association suggests that otherwise healthy individuals who drink should do so in moderation. That is defined as one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. And be careful with that pour: The AHA defines a drink as one 12-ounce beer, a 4 ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounce of 80-proof spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
2. Salt intake
Some experts say that the pervasive use of sodium in the America diet is wreaking havoc on our cardiovascular systems. "Sodium causes retention of fluid within the circulation, and if you're sodium-sensitive, it expands your blood volume and can contribute to high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart disease," explains Clyde Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and spokesman for the American Heart Association. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that if Americans reduced daily salt intake by 3 grams, we could significantly lower the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease (by between 60,000 and 120,000), stroke (by 32,000 to 66,000), heart attack (by 54,000 to 99,000), and even the number of deaths from any cause (by 44,000 to 92,000). The paper's authors noted previous research that showed the average American man consumes 10.4 grams of salt daily, while the average American woman gets 7.3 grams. Bottom line: The AHA recommends Americans limit salt intake to 1.5 grams daily. Be wary: Sodium creeps in via unexpected sources, and it's not so much the salt shaker on our table that's to blame. Research suggests we get as much as 80 percent of our daily salt intake from processed foods.
3. Sugar intake
Hours of sleep per night An overcaffeinated America seems to perpetually crave more shut-eye. found by CT scanning long before the disease process would normally be picked up.) A can of Coke or Pepsi. and sweetened beverages—soda. The same effect was not found in men. says the American Heart Association. This effect seems to be more pronounced in women than in men. says Whiteson. but the researchers suggest the results may have been skewed because men tend to overestimate how much exercise they get. Like salt. Bottom line: A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. heart-thumping exercise offers a multitude of health benefits. Bottom line: According to the AHA. then. juices." especially ischemic heart disease. 6. and sports drinks—are especially loaded with the stuff. Here's some disturbing math for you: A 12ounce can of soda has about 8 teaspoons (or 33 grams) of added sugars. a picture is beginning to take shape. which involves reduced blood flow (and oxygen) getting to heart arteries and the heart muscle. Exercise You've heard it a thousand times over. sweets. And while the research is still emerging on what one's resting heart rate predicts about heart disease risk. The association's primary concern is the number of excess calories that added sugars sneak into our diets and pile onto our waistlines. counting the beats in a 15-second period. a highly trained athlete can have a resting heart rate in the 40s. It is well established that sleep apnea. which results in numerous interruptions to breathing while asleep. Thus. Check yours by finding your wrist's pulse. Making it happen isn't easy. which can contribute to metabolic changes that increase the chances of developing a host of diseases. The clue was the beginnings of calcium buildup in their arteries. Bottom line: Get eight hours of sleep per night. 4. The reason is not clear. then multiplying by four. we know.It's not just the savory flavors that'll get you. Perhaps clinicians (and health writers) keep bashing us over the head . every 10-beats-per-minute increase in resting heart rate boosted the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease by 18 percent. compared with those who did little or no activity. 5. The study also found that women who got high levels of physical activity were able to reduce their risk of death considerably. particularly for cardiovascular fitness. (A gram of sugar translates into 4 calories. totaling about 130 calories. basically takes you to the AHA's new upper limit on the recommended amount of added sugar Americans should ingest on a daily basis. and age didn't have an impact. and the message stays the same: Regular. says Whiteson. can ultimately become a cause for concern. "There is certain evidence to support [the idea that] a higher resting heart rate is associated with heart disease. is associated with stroke and coronary artery disease. but a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggested that in women up to the age of 70. he says. And a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that middle-aged people who got five hours of shut-eye or less a night had a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than those who got eight hours. Resting heart rate How hard does your heart have to work—and how fast does it have to pump—to get oxygen-rich blood throughout your body? A lower number suggests your cardiovascular system is more efficient at doing this. too. women should get no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars and men should stop at 150 calories per day. And evidence is cropping up to suggest that a poor night's sleep is not only felt the next day but could have implications for one's heart over the long term. but it's been hypothesized that people with disrupted sleep breathing have higher blood pressure overall because they don't get the restorative sleep that normally allows blood pressure to go down and gives the cardiovascular system a break during slumber. In men. the risk was increased by 10 percent for every extra 10 beats per minute. sugar creeps into the processed foods that make up much of the American diet.
Who should get the test.5 times more likely to die over a 30-year period than nonsmokers. prediabetes is indicated by a level between 100 and 125 mg/dL and diabetes by a reading of 126 mg/dL or above. The normal range for a fasting blood glucose test is typically less than 100 milligrams per deciliter. Whiteson at NYU Langone Medical Center suggests that those who don't have heart disease should bump that recommendation up to 60 minutes a day. which measures overall blood glucose over the previous three months. Three quarters of those with diabetes die of heart or blood vessel disease.with that fact because of the eye-popping number of American adults who reported getting zero vigorous activity in a 2008 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention survey: 59 percent. "There is data to suggest that there is a significant decrease in the risk of heart and vascular disease with every 1 percent reduction in hemoglobin A1C. he says. to directly treat other critical risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. via medications or procedures. Doing so can bring down the risk of future cardiac events and . This translates into 30 minutes of exercise on five days of the week. But he offers a concession: "You can break it up" into. which is a snapshot of your blood sugar at the time. Having diabetes increases one's risk of cardiovascular disease considerably. In the realm of heart disease. to bring an elevated c-reactive protein down to normal. "There is no safe level of exposure" to tobacco smoke. obesity. however. five days a week of vigorous activity. A normal hemoglobin A1C level is below 6 percent. three 20-minute sessions per day. 7. up to 12 reps each. It is possible. say." He also thinks those without heart disease should do strength training thrice weekly. like a cold or injury. in order to heal. for high-sensitivity c-reactive protein. Both can be insightful. C-reactive protein Inflammation is a process our body uses to fight off an assault. and Alzheimer's disease. stroke. and those with diabetes should aim to keep it under 7 percent. It's an indicator of potential heart trouble. much ado has been made of c-reactive protein. Cigarettes A 2009 study of Norwegians found that heavy smokers—those who puff at least 20 cigarettes per day—were 2. including atherosclerosis. the major health associations (including the AHA and the American College of Sports Medicine) suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week—say. Your body's ability to use glucose (blood sugar) properly can be tested by getting a fasting blood glucose test. Bottom line: For a clean bill of health. chronic inflammation plays a detrimental role to health because the nasty byproducts —inflammatory molecules like cytokines— are believed to be part of several disease processes. is also on their to-do list. which can impede blood flow and promote atherosclerosis. the goal is to smoke exactly zero cigarettes. since "the effect of aerobic exercise is cumulative. 9. a marker for one's level of inflammation that can be picked up through a blood test called hs-CRP." says Whiteson. and reproductive problems). Just because you might not smoke a pack a day or even a week doesn't mean you're in the clear. but medicine doesn't have the tools. high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels. Even 10 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure may affect cardiovascular function. The more nuanced message that doesn't always get across is the risk that the occasional smoker is exposed to. Bottom line To protect against heart disease (not to mention cancer. Twice-weekly strength training of eight to 10 exercises. Bottom line: The more controlled. brisk walking that boosts your heart rate. "We can't treat high [c-reactive protein]. But the cardiovascular risks associated with smoking aren't just seen in chain smokers. the better. But over the long term. Blood sugar Over time. 8." says Whiteson. Individuals with heart disease should always discuss a new exercise regimen with a doctor first. This can spur the buildup of fat on blood vessel walls. and what are doctors to do with the results? Those are matters of considerable debate. says Yancy. where you're breathing pretty heavily and sweating. or by getting a hemoglobin A1C test.
5 are underweight. Bottom line: People with BMIs less than 18. and whole grains but low in red meat fat and sugar—has been shown to lower blood pressure significantly. A reading above 120/80 but below 140/90 is considered . the more damage to the vascular system. But too many questions remain about the study to make a blanket statement that folks should be taking statins more liberally. Target BMI range is between 18.death. 11. and kidneys.9. fatty liver disease. Body mass index takes the two numbers into account. and complications in pregnancy. of course. 10. is that it is not always entirely accurate. she's taking a reading of the force on the walls of your arteries. and levels above 3 mg/L means your risk is high. The correct waist circumference measurement is taken by wrapping a measuring tape around the natural waist at the belly button. Blood pressure This one is critical to heart health. high blood pressure doesn't have any telltale symptoms. And research has suggested that the DASH diet packs an especially powerful wallop when people simultaneously work to reduce salt intake. The trouble is. a known blood pressure booster. the heavier one tends to be. so a person might be living with hypertension unknowingly. osteoarthritis. and a BMI above 30 puts you in the obese category. but diet and exercise can really beat those numbers back into submission. BMI is an indirect measure of risk. fish.5 and 24. Action to lower blood pressure can include medications. heart disease and stroke. When a nurse wraps the cuff around your arm. The top number is called systolic blood pressure and is the measure of pressure while the heart beats. is a well-known risk factor for a range of diseases. Importantly. if you are at intermediate risk for heart disease based on other risk factors and your doctors would like another data point to determine treatment. high cholesterol. Like waist circumference. Body mass index Your weight matters. but it has to be considered in the context of how tall you are. Waist circumference While not a direct measure of heart disease. elevated blood pressure can damage organs and fuel a cascade of problems. Over the long haul. Bottom line: According to the American Heart Association. heart. not around the hips. a higher waist circumference indicates distribution of fat around the abdomen and packing fat around vital organs. sleep apnea. The catch. some cancers. The figure for women is less than 35 inches. Overweight is considered between 25 and 30. Too much excess weight is associated with diabetes. Be sure you're measuring properly. A person in excellent condition who has a lot of muscle mass may have a high BMI. says Yancy." which is the cutoff for a normal blood pressure reading. including heart disease. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. and diabetes—all of which have a direct impact on heart health." he says. a hs-CRP measure of 1 mg/L means you are at low risk of developing cardiovascular disease. says Yancy. A landmark study from late 2008 found that subjects who did not have heart disease and had normal cholesterol and who took statins had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke and also had fewer angioplasties and bypass surgeries over the course of the study. And the bigger the belly. The more one's blood pressure surpasses that level. 12. Getting the test may be helpful. Bottom line: "The only number that really matters is 120 over 80. but a higher measure correlates with greater risk. which is subject to fluctuating pressure as the heart beats to push blood through your body. however. Bottom line: Men should have a waist circumference of less than 40 inches. fruit. Obesity. 1 in 3 Americans have high blood pressure. which research has indicated is more dangerous than carrying weight in the thighs or buttocks. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)—high in veggies. But "there is no need to check CRP if a person already has high risk or truly is in the healthy bracket. a measure between 1 and 3 mg/L means you are at average risk. The bottom number is called diastolic and is the measure of pressure between heart beats. compared with the group who took a placebo. a high waist circumference tracks with increased risk for high blood pressure.
a measure above 200 mg/DL is considered high. bringing down high blood pressure. improving blood sugar profiles. Triglycerides should be below 150 mg/DL. And exercise. and lowering total cholesterol. anything above that is high blood pressure. Bottom line: You're aiming for total cholesterol below 200 mg/DL. trans fat. and total fat can help bring down your cholesterol level." including reducing weight. cholesterol. Both require attention and steps to bring the blood pressure back under control. though up to 129 mg/DL is near optimal. High LDL is considered 160 mg/DL or above.prehypertension. a type of fat in the blood. says Whiteson. Reducing saturated fat. LDL ideally should be below 100 mg/DL. With out-of-whack cholesterol levels comes greater risk for coronary artery disease and stroke. Cholesterol Your cholesterol level is a measure of the fats circulating in your bloodstream. above 60 mg/DL is categorized as protective to your heart. It can touch all risk factors for heart disease. "is one pill that treats all ills. . lowering LDL (the "bad" cholesterol). 13. HDL should be above 40 mg/DL for men and above 50 mg/DL for women (women tend to have higher HDL before menopause). and lowering triglycerides. reducing stress. increasing HDL (the "good" cholesterol). above 240 mg/DL puts you at twice the risk of coronary artery disease as a person within the normal range.
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