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Heart Health Center

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Key Numbers for Heart Health

3 numbers that can change your life.

2. Cholesterol: Predictor of Heart Attack

Cholesterol isn't all bad -- it's a type of fat that's actually a nutrient. But as you've probably heard, there's "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol. When we measure cholesterol and blood fats, we're really talking about three different numbers: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. They combine to give you a "lipid profile" score, but the three individual scores are most important.

Here are the numbers to strive for:

  • Total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or lower.
  • HDL ("good" cholesterol) of 50 mg/dL or higher, if you're a woman, or 40 mg/dL or higher, if you're a man.
  • Optimal LDL is 100 or lower, says Mosca. If you have other major risk factors, like pre-existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes, your doctor may want your LDL closer to 70.
  • Triglycerides of less than 150 mg/dL.

LDL is the number most doctors and heart health programs focus on in particular, says Mosca. "Every single point of LDL decrease makes a difference," she says. "If your LDL is at 140 and you get it down to 130, that's great, even if you haven't reached optimum levels yet."

Adults 20 and older should get a lipid profile every five years.

3. Waist Size: The Connection to Heart Disease

If you can only remember one number, your waist size is the one to know. Why? Because better than your weight or your BMI, your waist size predicts your heart disease risk, says Mosca. If your waist size is equal to or more than 35 inches in women and equal to or more than 40 inches in men, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic problems, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol.

It's easy to measure yourself. Just get a non-elastic tape and measure around your belly button.

"If patients lose even 1 inch off their waist, we see improvements in all the other heart health numbers," Mosca says. "Conversely, if they gain even 1 inch, we see worsening in those numbers. It's a much better indicator than weight, because you can be gaining weight and still losing waist size if you're working out and gaining lean muscle mass."

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