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Cholesterol Part 2: 13 Heart Healthy Numbers You Should Know

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A long life free of heart disease does not come just from controlling healthy blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, other factors affect your health. Here are some meaningful numbers you should be aware of and should discuss with a board certified healthcare provider, such as Dr. Kobobel.

Alcohol Intake

The American Heart Association suggests that otherwise healthy individuals who drink should do so in moderation. That’s defined as one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. And be careful with that pour: The AHA defines a drink as one 12-ounce beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounce of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.

Salt Intake

The AHA recommends Americans limit salt intake to 1.5 grams daily. Be wary: Sodium creeps in via unexpected sources, and it’s not so much the salt shaker on our table that’s to blame. Research suggests we get as much as 80 percent of our daily salt intake from processed foods. Some surprising foods loaded with salt include miso soup, cottage cheese, salsa, and dill pickles.

Sugar Intake

Like salt, sugar creeps into the processed foods that make up much of the American diet, and sweetened beverages-soda, juices, and sports drinks-are especially loaded with the stuff. Here’s some disturbing math for you: A 12-ounce can of soda has about 8 teaspoons (or 33 grams) of added sugars, totaling about 130 calories. (A gram of sugar translates into 4 calories.)

A can of Coke or Pepsi, then, basically takes you to the AHA’s upper limit on the recommended amount of added sugar Americans should ingest on a daily basis. The association’s primary concern is the number of excess calories that added sugars sneak into our diets and pile onto our waistlines, which can contribute to metabolic changes that increase the chances of developing a host of diseases.

Bottom line: According to the AHA, women should get no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars and men should stop at 150 calories per day. Watch out for surprising foods where sugar lurks, like fortune cookies, baked beans, ketchup, and flavored popcorn.

Resting Heart Rate

How hard does your heart have to work-and how fast does it have to pump-to get oxygen-rich blood throughout your body? A lower number suggests your cardiovascular system is more efficient at doing this. Thus, a highly trained athlete can have a resting heart rate in the 40s. While the research is still emerging on what one’s resting heart rate predicts about heart disease risk, a picture is beginning to take shape. “There is certain evidence to support [the idea that] a higher resting heart rate is associated with heart disease.

Bottom line: A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Check yours by finding your wrist’s pulse, counting the beats in a 15-second period, and then multiply by four. For an accurate reading, see your healthcare provider.

8-Hours of Sleep per Night

Evidence is cropping up to suggest that a poor night’s sleep is not only felt the next day but could have implications for one’s heart over the long term. It is well established that sleep apnea, which results in numerous interruptions to breathing while asleep, is associated with stroke and coronary artery disease.

The reason is not clear, but it’s been hypothesized that people with disrupted sleep breathing have higher blood pressure overall because they don’t get the restorative sleep that normally allows blood pressure to go down and gives the cardiovascular system a break during slumber. And a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that middle-aged people who got five hours of shut-eye or less a night had a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease than those who got eight hours. The clue was the beginnings of calcium buildup in their arteries, found by CT scanning long before the disease process would normally be picked up.


You’ve heard it a thousand times over, and the message stays the same: Regular, heart-thumping exercise offers a multitude of health benefits, particularly for cardiovascular fitness. Perhaps clinicians (and health writers) keep bashing us over the head with that fact because of the eye-popping number of American adults who reported getting zero vigorous activity in a 2008 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention survey: 59 percent.

Bottom line: The AHA and the American College of Sports Medicine, suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week-say, brisk walking that boosts your heart rate. This translates into 30 minutes of exercise on five days of the week. Twice-weekly strength training of eight to 10 exercises, up to 12 reps each, is also on their to-do list. You can break it up, for example, three 20-minute sessions per day, since “the effect of aerobic exercise is cumulative. Everyone, especially those with heart disease should speak with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise regimen.


This one might get your attention. Envision the seemingly virile, and it’s typically those in excellent physical condition. There may be some scientific backing for this. For example, having trouble getting or keeping an erection, or erectile dysfunction, is a risk factor for heart disease. The connection seems to come down to blood flow, not only in the arteries that supply the heart but also those that supply the penis. Sometimes erection trouble is an early sign of heart disease.

A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men who had little sex also had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Indeed, men who had sex once a month or less were 45 percent more likely to have heart disease than men who had sex at least twice a week. Unhealthy people simply may not be motivated to have sex because they don’t feel particularly well, have low libido, or feel depressed. Research has shown that because orgasm helps reduce stress hormones, sexual activity may have a positive effect on the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the breathing rate and blood pressure.


It’s simple: To protect against heart disease (not to mention cancer, stroke, and reproductive problems), the goal is to smoke exactly zero cigarettes

Blood sugar

Over time, high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels. This can spur the buildup of fat on blood vessel walls, which can impede blood flow and promote atherosclerosis. Having diabetes increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease considerably. Three quarters of those with diabetes die of heart or blood vessel disease.

The normal range for a fasting blood glucose test is typically less than 100 milligrams per deciliter; pre-diabetes is indicated by a level between 100 and 125 mg/dL and diabetes by a reading of 126 mg/dL or above. A normal hemoglobin A1C level is below 6 percent, and those with diabetes should aim to keep it fewer than 6.5 percent. So, get your levels checked!

Waist Circumference

While not a direct measure of heart disease, a high waist circumference tracks with increased risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes-all of which have a direct impact on heart health. And the bigger the belly, the heavier one tends to be. Obesity, of course, is a well-known risk factor for a range of diseases, including heart disease.

Importantly, a higher waist circumference indicates distribution of fat around the abdomen and packing fat around vital organs, which research has indicated is more dangerous than carrying weight in the thighs or buttocks.

The correct waist circumference measurement is taken by wrapping a measuring tape around the natural waist at the belly button, not around the hips. Men should have a waist circumference of less than 40 inches. The figure for women is less than 35 inches.

Body Mass Index

Your weight matters, but it has to be considered in the context of how tall you are. Body mass index takes the two numbers into account. Like waist circumference, BMI is an indirect measure of risk, but a higher measure correlates with greater risk. The catch, however, is that it is not always entirely accurate. A person in excellent condition who has a lot of muscle mass may have a high BMI.


Too much excess weight is associated with diabetes, heart disease and stroke, some cancers, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, and complications in pregnancy. People with BMIs less than 18.5 are underweight. Target BMI range is between 18.5 and 24.9. Overweight is considered between 25 and 30, and a BMI above 30 puts you in the obese category. Everybody is different, to be sure what your measurements mean in the terms of your own wellness, work with a healthcare professional.

Blood Pressure

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, 1 in every 3 Americans has high blood pressure. When a nurse wraps the cuff around your arm, she’s taking a reading of the force on the walls of your arteries, which is subject to fluctuating pressure as the heart beats to push blood through your body. The trouble is, high blood pressure doesn’t have any telltale symptoms, so a person might be living with hypertension unknowingly. Over the long haul, elevated blood pressure can damage organs and fuel a cascade of problems.

Action to lower blood pressure can include medications, but diet and exercise can really beat those numbers back into submission. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)-high in veggies, fruit, fish, and whole grains but low in red meat fat and sugar-has been shown to lower blood pressure significantly. And research has suggested that the DASH diet packs an especially powerful wallop when people simultaneously work to reduce salt intake, a known blood pressure booster.

The only number that really matters is 120 over 80, which is the cutoff for a normal blood pressure reading. The more one’s blood pressure surpasses that level, the more damage to the vascular system, heart, and kidneys. The top number is called systolic blood pressure and is the measure of pressure while the heart beats. The bottom number is called diastolic and is the measure of pressure between heart beats. A reading above 120/80 but below 140/90 is considered pre-hypertension; anything above that is high blood pressure. Both require attention and steps to bring the blood pressure back under control.


As discussed in part 1 of this month’s cholesterol feature, your cholesterol level is a measure of the fats circulating in your bloodstream. If it is possible you are at risk or have been putting it off, it is important to get screened and work with your physician to maintain healthy levels. The board certified healthcare professionals at Brevard Family Walk In Clinic will be happy to check all of your numbers, discuss them with you and create a manageable plan that will work to fit your lifestyle and well-being.

To make an appointment today to get screened or learn more about cholesterol, heart disease and diet find us at

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