We are all encouraged to take charge of our health and be responsible for our well-being. But the messages we’re getting from the media, science and government are often unclear and confusing. What seemed to be the right thing to do yesterday gets dismissed as false or irrelevant tomorrow. Almost every day, there’s a new fad diet or miracle drug that promises to “revolutionize” the way we live. It’s no wonder that more and more people just give up and stop caring. That’s unfortunate because maintaining a health-promoting lifestyle is not all that complicated. In fact, there are only a few rules to follow – but they are important to know.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle Is Not Rocket Science
But There Are Questions You Should Know the Answers to
#1: Do you know your healthy weight range?
The average weight of both men and women in the U.S. and many other countries around the world is significantly higher today than it ever was, even higher than just a decade ago. Whether this is a “natural” trend or cause for concern is another debate. However, in terms of health risks, it is important to have some guidelines for what can be considered a desirable weight range.
The formula used to determine your personal healthy weight range is easy to apply. Important components are gender, height and frame size. Women calculate 100 pounds for the first 5 feet (60 inches) of height, then add 5 pounds for every additional inch, plus or minus 10% based on frame size. Men calculate 106 pounds for the first 5 feet (60 inches) of height, then add 6 pounds for every additional inch, plus or minus 10% based on frame size.
#2: Do you know your waist size?
Overweight people usually store a greater amount of fat in one of two places: The belly or the hips. Based on the differences in fat distribution, there are two distinguished “body types,” often referred to as “apple” and “pear.” Carrying extra weight around the stomach is more likely to create health problems than a concentration of fat cells in the hips and thighs because of closer proximity to the inner organs. “Apple” types are also considered to be at greater risk of developing weight-related diseases like diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood) and heart disease.
But it’s not all bad news for “apple” types. For them it’s easier to lose weight than for their “pear”-shaped counterparts because abdominal fat cells relinquish their fat more readily than those in the hip and thigh regions.
To determine your waistline, measure at its narrowest point without holding in your stomach. For women, it should measure no more than 35 inches and for men no more than 40 inches.
#3: Do you know your cholesterol profile?
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is produced in the liver. However, the amount of naturally occurring cholesterol is miniscule by comparison to the dietary cholesterol we get from eating animal food products.
Cholesterol has several important functions. For instance, cholesterol is required to build and maintain cell membranes. It is also instrumental in the synthesis of a number of hormones and the production of bile acids for the digestion of dietary fats.
The amount of cholesterol needed to perform these complex tasks is extremely small. When too much cholesterol accumulates, its presence can become quite harmful. The reason is that the fatty substance has a tendency to stick to the interior of blood vessel walls where it builds up layers of plaque over time. Eventually, the vessels can narrow to the point where blood no longer flows through easily. This is called atherosclerosis, a.k.a. hardening of the arteries. When this happens, the risks for heart disease, hypertension, heart attack and stroke increase substantially.
There are different kinds of cholesterol levels to observe. Your total cholesterol should not exceed 200mg/dL. HDL, a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol, should be 40 mg/dL or above (the higher, the better). LDL, the “bad” cholesterol should be under 130 mg/dL (the lower, the better). Your triglycerides are also an important marker. They should ideally stay between 40 and 150 mg/dL.
#4: Do you know your blood pressure range?
Blood pressure is the force applied to the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood through the body. The pressure is continually changing, depending on activity, temperature, diet and emotional state.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called “the silent killer” because it is a deadly disease that gives no early warnings and has no specific symptoms. But it is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.
Blood pressure is easily determined with the help of a sphygmomanometer, a blood pressure cuff. What is measured is the blood pressure that arises when the heart muscle contracts to push blood into the arteries, also called “systolic” pressure, and again when the heart is at rest between beats, called “diastolic” pressure. The data are measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). An optimal reading for adults is a systolic pressure (upper number) of 120 or less and a diastolic pressure (lower number) of 80 or less.
An occasional spike does not necessarily mean that you suffer from high blood pressure. However, if the readings stay above 140/90 mm Hg over extended periods of time, your doctor will likely want you to begin a treatment regimen. Keeping within a healthy weight range, eating a nutritious diet, limiting sodium (salt) intake, cutting back on alcohol and caffeine consumption, reducing stress and getting regular exercise are all part of the equation.
#5: Do you know your blood sugar level?
Glucose, a simple sugar, is the primary fuel for all cells in our body. It is derived from the foods we eat, especially those containing carbohydrates. While it is being carried in the blood stream, glucose is called “blood sugar” or “blood glucose.”
When blood glucose levels are abundant, some glucose gets stored in the liver and the muscles. When glucose levels are low, the liver can release some from storage and add more to the blood. While blood glucose levels are never constant, there is a normal range the body tries to maintain through hormonal regulation. Blood glucose fluctuations can be caused by food intake, stress, physical exertion and hormone activity.
There are three tests your doctor can apply to determine your blood sugar levels. The first is called the “fasting plasma glucose test (FPG). Normal values are less than 100 mg/dL. Between 100 mg/dL and 126 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetic and everything beyond is diabetic. The second is the “oral glucose tolerance test” (OGTT). 140 mg/dL and below is normal, 140 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetic and everything above is diabetic. The third is the A1C test. Normal is less than 5.7%, pre-diabetic is between 5.7% and 6.4% and after that it’s diabetic.
# 6: Do you know your vitamin D level?
The human body makes vitamin D naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Dietary sources include fortified milk, liver, fatty saltwater fish, butter and eggs. The main forms of vitamin D are D2 (ergocalciferol, which can be found in plants, yeasts and fungi) and D3 (cholecalciferol, which comes from animal food products). Vitamin D is essential for normal growth and development and the formation of healthy teeth and bones because it helps with calcium absorption from food.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that levels can build up in the body and become toxic. However, the risk of deficiency is much greater for those who stay predominantly indoors and lack sufficient sun exposure. Deficiency symptoms include rickets (softening of the bones) in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults.
There are a few different tests for vitamin D deficiency. One that is called “25hydroxyvitamin-D” is considered the best indicator because it reflects the amount of vitamin D produced by the body and through dietary source. Healthy levels range from 30 to 100 ng/dL.
#7: Do you know your vitamin B12 level?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) has many important functions. It helps with the formation of blood cells, nerve sheaths, folate activity and the production of various proteins. It prevents certain forms of anemia and neurological disturbances. It is also involved in the metabolism of fat and carbohydrate.
Although vitamin B12 is water-soluble, it is stored in the liver, meaning that you can overdose on it. Major dietary sources are animal food products like meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese.
To function properly, vitamin B12 requires an adequate concentration of acid in the stomach. Acid levels decrease naturally with age or are actively reduced by the use of antacids (e.g. TUMS). Both may lead to malabsorption of B12. If this remains untreated, potentially irreversible neurological damage and life-threatening anemia can develop.
A simple blood test can determine whether your B12 blood concentration is within a healthy range, which is 247 pg/mL and above.
By knowing and staying on top of these values, you will be able to reduce the threat of many chronic diseases and improve considerably your chances to live a long and healthy life.