What’s your earliest memory for learning an important number? Mine is Kindergarten when I proudly brought home two perfect cutouts: a house and rotary phone, proving to my parents, that I had memorized our home phone number and address! As a matter of fact, I still have those cutouts in a scrapbook AND for the record, still know both those numbers by heart! (and I haven’t lived in that house since 1989!)
I have always liked numbers. Maybe I had great math teachers or maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I love the problem solving aspect of numbers. My favorite thing to do when I worked in a clinical setting, included calculating tube feedings and TPN (total parenteral nutrition - a fancy acronym for IV nutrition) for patients. On any given day at my current job, you can guarantee my calculator is within reach.
Whether you like numbers or not, we start early in life learning important ones. Even if you’re not a math person, there are plenty of numbers you need to know. Here are a few I would like to share, and BONUS: there’s not a math test at the end, but there is a call to action.
1. My first number. Did you know heart disease is currently the #1 cause of death for both men and women in our country? NUMBER ONE. That is so powerful. And so close to home for me.
120/80. I bet you guessed this one. It’s the normal range for blood pressure. The upper number (systolic) should be less than 120 mm Hg, while the lower number (diastolic) should be less than 80 mm Hg. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly half of Americans have high blood pressure and many don’t know because a lot of the time people aren’t showing any symptoms. If left untreated, high blood pressure (hypertension) can damage your arteries, heart, brain and kidneys.
100. That’s my next number. Any guesses on what that is? Less than 100 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) is the “optimal” level for LDL in healthy people. What is LDL? Is that the good type of cholesterol or the bad one? LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol and stands for low density lipoprotein. HDL (high density lipoprotein) is considered the “good” type of cholesterol and ideally, you want this number high. An easy way to remember LDL versus HDL is L=lousy for bad cholesterol and H= happy for HDL.
58. My final number. This is the age of my mother when she passed away from a massive heart attack, almost ten years ago. Fifty-eight is shockingly young and devastatingly sad.
Knowing my family history, especially my Mom’s story, along with my training as a dietitian has encouraged me to know these numbers by heart and focus on things that I can control, like diet and exercise. Annually, I have my blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked and I listen to my body and see a doctor when I know something isn’t right. Numbers are only a part of the puzzle and can change over time as we age. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle including eating a healthy diet and staying active are just pieces of the puzzle.
In October of 2018, cholesterol guidelines were updated by a working group composed of several experts in the field of cardiology. While the previous recommendations focused on very specific ranges for cholesterol numbers (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides), this updated set of guidelines focuses on “bad” cholesterol levels with an emphasis on keeping LDL as low as possible AND a review of overall lifestyle exposure including risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. These updated guidelines are meant to help doctors personalize your care.
If you’re concerned about your heart health, my tips around this topic are in sync with the newest recommendations:
The numbers that I am focusing on this week involves dollars for fundraising. On Saturday, my family and I will walk in the AHA Heart Walk to remember my Mom. Every year, I raise money to support this organization and most importantly to support research that’s needed to change these numbers. Walking in the heart walk has become a part of the healing process for me and a way for me to make a difference in my Mom’s honor and in her memory.
If you want to know your personal risks, follow up with your doctor. If you’re looking for additional resources, try some of these:
My call to action is this: I challenge you today to get to know your numbers and your risks by heart (pun intended). If you already know them, can you do something new this week to change them for the better?
As always, thanks for stopping by.
Take care of yourself; it’s the only self you’ve got.