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4 heart-health numbers to know

Get a pulse on your health

Are you at risk for heart disease? These four numbers will tell you the answer.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure measures the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels. When it's consistently too high, it's considered hypertension. 1 in 3 Americans External Site are affected by high blood pressure, but many don't even know. Controlling high blood pressure is essential to preventing strokes, kidney disease, heart attacks and heart failure. 

When you have your blood pressure taken, you'll see a ratio, one number over another. The top number, referred to as systolic, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number, referred to as diastolic, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

Target these numbers:

  • Systolic — less than 120
  • Diastolic — less than 80


Cholesterol External Site is a waxy substance that is needed to build cells. It comes from two different sources: your body and from food, like meat and full-fat dairy. Cholesterol circulates in your blood, so it becomes a problem when there's too much, causing it to build up in your arteries.

Your total cholesterol is made up of your LDL and HDL. You've probably heard them referred to as "good" cholesterol (HDL) and "bad" cholesterol (LDL).

Target these numbers:

  • Total cholesterol — less than 200 mg/dL
  • HDL — 40 mg/DL or higher
  • LDL — less than 100 mg/dL

Blood sugar

Much of the food we eat turns into glucose, also known as blood sugar External Site. This glucose is used for energy, but if you have too much of it in your blood, it can lead to heart, kidney, eye and nerve damage. It can also lead to diabetes.

There are two types of sugars External Site in American diets: natural sugars, which come from foods like fruit and milk, and added sugars, found in foods like carbonated soda, canned fruit, and candy. You can have sugar in your diet, but it should be limited.

Target this number:

  • Fasting blood sugar — 100 mg/dL or below

Body mass index

Body mass index (BMI) is a number calculated using both your height and weight. Your BMI number is a fairly easy way to figure out your weight "category" External Site, like underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese.

To figure out where you stand, use this BMI calculator External Site.

Target this number:

  • Healthy weight — Less than 25 BMI

Schedule a preventive exam to know your numbers

The best way to get a pulse on your overall health is to schedule an annual preventive exam with your personal or family doctor. If your numbers aren't where you want them to be, your doctor can help you make a plan to bring those numbers closer to target.