Although no medical test exists that can determine, with certainty, whether you will experience a heart attack or stroke, there are tests that doctors can perform to estimate your risks for these diseases – and then implement a plan to mitigate those risks. As part of this process, your doctor will likely consider your family history for these diseases among other factors in conjunction with your core numbers.
As an overview of these important metrics, a recent article published in AARP.org lists seven numbers that doctors can glean from test results, and then use them to help monitor and reduce your risks for cardiovascular disease.
Your body naturally creates two types:
- LDL: “bad cholesterol”
- HDL: “good cholesterol”
When your numbers are added up, along with 20 percent of your triglyceride score, you get your cholesterol score. Ideally, it’s 200 or below; between 200 and 239 is considered “borderline high” and, above that, you have high cholesterol. If so, your doctor will likely work on lowering your artery-clogging LDL through diet and exercise recommendations, and perhaps medicine.
This metric measures the force of your blood as it pushes against blood vessel walls. When too high, it puts stress on arteries and your heart. Nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, defined as having a bottom number of 80 or above or a top number of 130 or above. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor will likely prescribe a low-salt diet (watch process foods and restaurant meals!) and, perhaps, medication.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
This helps to determine body fat, using a weight-to-height ratio. The higher the number, the greater risk you have for heart attack or stroke. Someone with a normal weight typically has a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. If the number is between 25 and 29.9, this indicates someone being overweight; over 30, obese — and this can increase risk of heart disease and strokes and more.
In some cases, people can have a high BMI but not much body fat. This can be true for people with muscular builds. And, some older adults who’ve lost muscle mass may show a lower BMI than what’s actual. If your doctor is concerned about your BMI, healthy eating and exercise is typically the remedy. If you can lose just five percent of your body weight, this can help significantly.
Other measurements discussed in the AARP article include:
- resting heart rate
- blood glucose level
- waist circumference
- VO2 max: The maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise
Another resource for this kind of information can be found at GoRedForWomen.org. And, perhaps even more important, the site guides women towards making healthy behavior commitments. As women, the site notes, we “tend to put others ahead of ourselves. But if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of everyone else around us. If you don’t make your health a priority, who will?”
More specifically, women can choose to commit to two out of three recommended behaviors listed on the site: to move more, eat smart, and/or manage blood pressure. By choosing and then providing your name, email address and zip code, you can receive regular communications to help you stick to these heart-healthy commitments.