All your vital organs are important – the clue is in the name – but if there’s one part of the body you really want to work properly, it’s your heart. Cardiovascular disease is the second biggest cause of premature death in England and the leading cause of death overall for men, so it’s wise to adopt a lifestyle that keeps it in good nick.
Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not doing enough exercise and being overweight all increase the risk of developing heart disease, as does having high LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. But by keeping tabs on five vital statistics related to these risk factors you can get a good idea of the state of your ticker. Here are the numbers to look out for.
1. Blood Pressure
What’s the magic number? Less than 140/90
High blood pressure, or hypertension, increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease because it puts extra strain on the heart and blood vessels.
“A normal blood pressure reading should be less than 140/90,” says Dr Yassir Javaid, cardiology advisor for Bupa UK.
“The top or first number – systolic pressure – is the pressure within your arteries when your heart contracts; and the second or bottom number – diastolic pressure – is the pressure when your heart is between beats. Anything consistently over the range of 140/90 means your blood pressure is in the high range and could mean you have hypertension.”
Your GP and some pharmacies can measure your blood pressure, and you can also do it at home with your own monitor. If your blood pressure is too high, the good news is that a healthier lifestyle can bring it down.
“High alcohol and salt intake in particular are associated with high blood pressure,” says Javaid.
“You should also consider reducing your food portions if you’re overweight, and try to incorporate plenty of fruit and vegetables into your diet. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are also important factors in controlling blood pressure.”
2. LDL Cholesterol
What’s the magic number? Under 3
There are two kinds of cholesterol – “bad” LDL cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol. The former is the one you need to keep an eye on.
“Too much LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, particularly in people with other risk factors such as high blood pressure,” says Javaid.
“Your GP can check your good and bad cholesterol levels with a simple blood test. Ideally, you’d want your LDL cholesterol level to be under three. However, if you have a history of heart-related issues such as angina or have had a heart attack, you should aim for an LDL of less than two.”
Reducing the amount of saturated fat you eat, along with exercising regularly, can help cut your levels of LDL cholesterol.
3. Resting Heart Rate
What’s the magic number? Less than 100bpm
If you’ve bought a fitness tracker in the past couple of years there’s a fair chance it will measure your resting heart rate. This is a good indicator of how fit you are and your heart’s overall health.
“The normal resting heart rate for adults can range from 60-100 beats per minute, though many fit people can have a normal resting heart rate of below 60,” says Javaid.
“If yours is higher than 100 beats per minute at rest, you should be checked by your GP.”
What’s the magic number? Between 18.5 and 24.9
Your body mass index is the standard measure used to determine whether your weight is right for your height. In general, people who fall in the overweight or obese categories have an increased risk of heart problems.
“Being overweight puts extra pressure on your heart and more often than not, people who are overweight also have high blood pressure,” says Javaid.
“A healthy BMI range is anything between 18.5 and 24.9. A healthy diet and exercise is key to staying in the healthy BMI range.”
5. Waist Measurement
What’s the magic number? Less than 94cm
Although BMI is a useful overall indicator of your weight your body shape is more important when it comes to determining the possible risk of heart disease.
“Fat around the abdomen is an indication that you are likely to have fat coating major organs such as the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas,” says Javaid.
“This type of fat is associated with developing diabetes and heart disease. Ideally your waist circumference should be no more than 94cm for men and 80cm for women.”