For a Healthy Heart, 6 Numbers Every Woman Should Know
Don't worry about your figure — focus on improving these six figures instead
If you're a woman, there's one number you may obsess over: your weight. And yes, weight matters when it comes to health. But since one in three women will die of heart disease or a stroke according to the American Heart Association, you may want to focus more on these six numbers the Mayo Clinic says women should pay attention to in order to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Related: 6 Heart Attack Symptoms Women Ignore
The ideal: Less than 120/80
What it means: The top number (diastolic blood pressure) indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The bottom number indicates the pressure in between heartbeats, when the heart is refilling with blood.
Why it matters: The AHA calls high blood pressure, aka hypertension, “the silent killer” because typically it causes no symptoms. And yet, according to the AHA, untreated high blood pressure can lead to:
- Heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure
- Aortic dissection (when the force of blood pumping through the aorta is so great it causes the walls of the artery to split)
- Atherosclerosis (a buildup of fats in arteries that causes them to harden)
- Kidney damage
- Loss of vision
- Memory loss
- Fluid in lungs
- Angina (chest pain)
- Peripheral artery disease (narrowing of arteries in the arms, legs, stomach or head)
The one time high blood pressure will bring on symptoms is in the case of a hypertensive crisis, in which systolic blood pressure soars to 180 or more or diastolic reaches 110 or more.
Cholesterol and triglycerides
- LDL — 100 or less
- HDL — 60 or more
- Triglycerides — 150 or less
What they mean: LDL or "bad" cholesterol is the kind that clogs arteries. HDL or "good" cholesterol is the kind that escorts the bad stuff out of the body. Triglycerides are fats converted from unused calories that travel in the blood.
Why it matters: When the numbers are outside the healthy ranges, the risk of heart disease goes up, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Body mass index (BMI)
The ideal: Less than 25
What it means: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) defines body mass index as a measure of body fat based on height and weight. You can find out your BMI using this calculator from the Mayo Clinic.
Why it matters: A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight, according to NHLBI. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. The higher your BMI, the greater your risk for heart disease and high blood pressure as well as other health problems. Waist circumference is another indicator of heart health. If most of your fat is in your belly, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease (as well as type 2 diabetes). For women, this means a middle that measures more than 35 inches, the NHLBI says.
Related: Can You Be Overweight and Healthy?
The ideal: 10,000 or more steps each day
What it means: Walking 10,000 steps a day is the equivalent of doing about 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, according to the Mayo Clinic. It equals about 5 miles.
Why it matters: The NHLBI says regular physical activity benefits cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscle, lowering the risk of clogged arteries and helping to control weight.
Servings of fruits and vegetables
The ideal: 5 to 9 servings per day
What it means: According to the AHA a serving of fruit is one medium piece of fresh fruit (such as an apple); 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit; 1/4 cup of dried fruit; or 1/2 cup of 100 percent fruit juice. A serving of vegetables is 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables; 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned vegetable; or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice. To make it easy to get enough, the AHA recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and veggies at each meal and snacking on fruits and veggies.
Why it matters: Vegetables and fruits contain nutrients that may help prevent cardiovascular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. And if you fill up on produce, you’re less likely to eat high fat foods that can contribute to heart disease risk.
Hours of sleep
The ideal: 6 to 9 hours
What it means: Get at least six hours of uninterrupted, good-quality sleep every night, but no more than nine (or eight if you're 65 or over, according to the National Sleep Foundation). This means going to bed at around the same time each night, getting up at the same time and doing all you can to sleep soundly.
Why it matters: Adequate sleep is key to overall health and for helping the immune system stay healthy. “Long-term lack of sleep can not only put you at risk for a weaker immune system, but can also increase your risk for other chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic.