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Heart Health: Know Your Numbers

Keep on Top of These Simple Tests to Stay Healthy

When it comes to protection against heart disease, the evidence is simple and clear: Preventive strategies work. “People can have a significant effect on their heart health through the lifestyle choices they make,” says Sergio Waxman, MD, MBA, an interventional cardiologist and Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility. “There are not many diseases where that is so clearly documented.”

A key part of self-care is understanding the following about your heart health. Your primary care provider can check these numbers at your yearly physical and you can track some of them between visits.

BLOOD PRESSURE:

The force of blood rushing through your vessels. High blood pressure, which can damage or weaken blood vessels, is defined as a reading of 130/80. “A lot of patients get nervous in a doctor’s office, which may elevate their blood pressure, so it’s important to check it outside the office as well,” says Dr. Waxman. You can buy a manual or digital blood pressure monitor at the drugstore, or use a public device available at some pharmacies.

HEART RATE (PULSE):

The number of times your heart beats per minute. “This is helpful if you’re exercising and want to see if your training is significantly affecting your heart rate,” says Dr. Waxman. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. The more fit you are, the sooner your heart rate returns to normal after exercise.


BLOOD SUGAR:

High glucose (blood sugar) levels are strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease because over time they damage blood vessels and nerves. “An annual blood test after overnight fasting is all that’s needed, unless your levels are elevated,” says Dr. Waxman. “If they are, the other number you should know is your Hemoglobin A1C, which is a measure of your average glucose levels over the past three months.”

BLOOD CHOLESTEROL:

A waxy substance produced by the liver. Cholesterol is transported to and from cells by lipoproteins. Lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL, known as the “bad” kind) deposits cholesterol on artery walls; highdensity lipoprotein (HDL) removes it. Both levels are determined by a simple blood test. Your doctor also might suggest your blood be tested for C-reactive protein. “Some investigators think this may be as important as the LDL number for assessing cardiac risk,” says Dr. Waxman.

BODY MASS INDEX (BMI):
This is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. The higher your BMI, the greater your risk for cardiac and other diseases. You can calculate your BMI with the help of online calculators and charts from the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most people know they should take better care of their health, they often feel that work and family demands prevent it, says Dr. Waxman.

“Try to give yourself one hour every day to devote to taking care of yourself, whether it’s exercising, preparing healthy meals, checking your blood pressure, taking a nap or a combination of things,” he advises. “It’s like what they say about oxygen on airplanes: Put your mask on first or you won’t be able to help someone else.”

Your hear doesn't beat just for you. Get it checked. To make an appointment with one of New jersey's top cardiac specialists, go here or call: 888.724.7123.