From the size of your waist to a cholesterol reading - your state of health is reflected in numbers...
From the size of your wast to a cholesterol reading – your state of health is reflected in numbers. Patsy Westcott asks experts how to change the vital statistics that add up to wellbeing.
Never has our life been so ruled by numbers, but while your multitude if pins, passwords and personal contacts are important, the real vital statistics are those that tell the story your health. From the level of your blood sugar to your waist circumference and much more, these critical figures all dictate how you feel and function – and give warning when your health may be at risk. The good news is that if the figures don’t add up, small and achievable lifestyle tweaks, such as a change in diet, exercise, drinking and smoking habits, can have a big impact on your health numbers and risk of disease.
Whittle down your waist
31.5 inches (80cm) or less is the ideal waist measurement. Higher than this shows a raised risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What it means: The amount of fat stored around your organs (visceral fat) is thought to be especially harmful, says diabetes nurse Libby Dowling of Diabetes UK. This is because it may trigger inflammatory chemicals and/or cause changes in metabolism that lead to insulin resistance. For women, a waist of more than 34.5in (88cm) multiples risk of diabetes threefold, according to a 2014 Public Health England report.
How to change your measurements: Cut carbs – One study showed this reduced belly fat and increased insulin sensitivity in women at risk of type 2 diabetes.
HIIT It!:Twelve weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) helped a group of inactive women under 50 reduce their waists by almost 11/3in (3.5cm).
Pick Protein: Especially meat, which helped reduce the waist size in one study. Vegetarian? More milk, yogurt and cheese also equated to a slimmer waist.
What it means: Cholesterol measurements are shown as mmol/L, which is millimoles per litre of blood. Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad stuff that clogs arteries., while high-density lipoprotein (HDL), is the good cholesterol that ousts LDL from the bloodstream. Previously there’s been a big focus on LDL cholesterol, but we now know there’s more than one important type of bad cholesterol, explains cardiac nurse, Julie Ward of the British Heart Foundation.
Understand the numbers: A blood fat profile may include (ideal score given) : Total cholesterol – less than 5 (or 4if you’re at risk of heart disease); HDL – more than 1; non-HDL – 4; LDL – less than 2: triglycerides (how well your body clears fats from the blood stream0 – less than 1.7.
How to cut cholesterol:
1. Shed pounds: Losing just 5-10% of your body weight can increase HDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides.
2. Quit smoking: Those aged 50 and over who gave up smoking increased good HDL cholesterol by 5%, according to US research.
3. Eat more plant based foods: Plant sterols and stanols, found ingrains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, nuts, seeds, fortified spreads and yogurt, lower LDL cholesterol and can reduce non-HDL cholesterol.
120/80 or less is the ideal measurement.
What it means: The top number is your systolic blood pressure. (The highest pressure when your heart beats and pushes blood around your body.) The bottom one is your diastolic blood pressure. (The lowest pressure wen your heart relaxes between beats.) Consistently raised blood pressure or hypertension can, over time, stretch artery walls, causing silent damage to major organs, as well as putting a strain on the heart. High blood pressure also increases your risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney problems and vascular dementia, which is caused by impaired blood supply to the brain.
Understand the numbers:
90/60 – 119/79 = healthy 120/80 – 139/89 = pre-hypertension 140/90 or more = high 130/80 (anyone with diabetes, kidney or heart problems). Source blood pressure UK
How to drop your blood pressure:
Cut salt – Reducing your intake to less than 6g of salt a day (around a teaspoon) significantly lowers blood pressure.
Step up fruit and veg – They are rich in potassium, which helps counteract the damaging effects of salt.
Get active – Tennis, cycling, brisk walking, swimming, dancing and jogging are good. But if you have high blood pressure, check with your GP before doing more arduous activities.
Be alcohol savvy – regularly exceeding two to three units a day increases blood pressure. Have at least one alcohol-free day a week and choose low-alcohol drinks – 10% or less – where you can.
Invest in a home monitor – NICE now recommends home monitoring as the best way to keep tab on blood pressure. If its high your doctor may get you to wear an ambulatory monitor to confirm readings.
42 or less is the ideal result of an HbA1c test, which indicates your blood glucose levels for the previous two to three months.
What it means: This one-off blood test is being increasingly used to check for diabetes, rather than the cumbersome traditional tests, which involves a fasting test followed by a glucose drink to see how high levels rise. The HbA1C shows your level of blood glucose over the past three months. A level of 42-47 (mmol/mol) indicates a high risk of diabetes, while more than 48 shows diabetes. Persistently raised blood glucose is a sign of insulin resistance (sometimes known as pre-diabetes). This is when insulin, produced by the pancreas, starts to fail in its job of removing glucose from the bloodstream to move the cells for energy..
Understand the numbers: Fasting blood glucose test: less than 6= normal; 6.1-7 = borderline; more than 7 = diabetes (mmol/L).
Cut your risk: Yes, it’s about keeping weight down (again). Losing weight can reverse the risk in 80% of type 2 cases, says diabetes nurse Libby Dowling, a clinical advisor for Diabetes UK.
Reduce stress: In one study, three to six sessions of yoga a week lowered blood glucose levels and insulin resistance.
Exercise with weights: This has been shown to improve both post-meal glucose and triglyceride levels.
50 nmol/L or more is the level of vitamin D we should have in our blood. The vitamin is formed by sunlight on the skin and is thought to protect us from a range of illnesses.
What matters: Vital for healthy bones and, according to increasing, although still inconclusive evidence, vitamin D may help protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS and other chronic illnesses. Opinion is divided on optimal blood level;, observes Edinburgh GP Dr Helga Rhein. Experts generally agree 25nmol/L is too low, and 50nmol/L is enough, but there is also research suggesting an optimal level is more than 75nmol/L.
Understand the numbers: According to some vitamin D experts, the following numbers are the ones to aim for: more than 75 = ideal; 50-75 = sufficient; 25-49 = insufficient; less than 25 = deficient.
Raise your vitamin D levels
Seek a little sun: Expose as much bare skin as possible to the midday sun for just a few minutes each day without sunscreen. There’s no set time, but it should be less than the time it takes to burn. If you’re older or overweight, your body is less efficient at making vitamin D.
Supplement it: Particularly in winter. The department of Health advises 10mcg a day, but many experts recommend taking more.
Eat oily fish: Tuck into herring, mackerel, sardines and salmon – all a source of vitamin D – three times a week.