Oh, such a great morning…you wake up refreshed, feeling good, and then you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror….Hmmm…I’m looking goooooddd today! You nod at yourself and smile. We should all have mornings like this!
But there’s an important warning about taking charge of our health. We need to get beyond how we look in the mirror and instead focus on how we feel and what our health risks are.
In my last blog, we talked about the need to take charge of your health and the simple ways you could take steps to become a healthieryou. Today, I want to share more about what’s going on on the inside.
Although our ideal body weight has been a go-to marker of health, how we look doesn’t tell us how healthy we are.
We need to know other numbers and take charge of our health.
That’s what my friend, Bob, found out. He’s the kind of guy who should be on the cover of Men’s Health…ruggedly handsome, athletic, 6′ 4″, 190 pounds, super successful, and an all-around good person.
When Bob was in his early 50s, he was out playing basketball and had a cardiac arrest while on the bench. Luckily, there was an automated external defibrillator (AED) nearby, and one of the athletic trainers in the gym knew how to use it. The medics arrived quickly and got Bob to the hospital, where he received the emergency treatment he needed to survive. Twelve months later, Bob had to return to the hospital for open-heart surgery.
It was a terrible time. Fortunately, Bob got back to good health. His physical fitnesssurely helped his recovery, but it also masked his underlying risk. It wasn’t something he could see on the outside. He was caught in what I call the ‘mirror syndrome:’ “I look good, I look fit, so I must be healthy and doing well.”
Bob had had regular checkups, but there was an important baseline test that he hadn’t had. It was the CT calcium scan, a simple test that measures calcium deposits in the coronary arteries and indicates signs of heart disease. If he’d had a scan, he would have been treated long before he faced a life-and-death emergency.
Ingredients to Take Charge of Your Health
So, Wellness Warrior, how do you take charge of your health? Here are specific, proactive guidelines for preventive care at midlife and getting the best treatment possible when you or a loved one runs into bad luck.
Now, you may think you know all of this, but you may be surprised at the nuggets that could save your life and vastly increase your chances for the healthiest, longest life possible.
Know and understand your numbers. We hear the noise of, “do this, do that,” and we don’t tune into our bodies. We don’t understand what the tests are, what the results mean, and what we’re aiming for. This doesn’t mean we have to become obsessive or do without pleasure and fun. It means caring about yourself. Yes, caring about yourself!
Here’s a quick introduction to some baseline tests and numbers you should become familiar with. (Your doctor can help you personalize the list of tests you should take and the numbers you should try to maintain.)
- Body mass index (BMI)—BMI is a tool for measuring whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. The higher your number above normal, the greater your risk for heart disease. Many websites have BMI calculators. In fact, you can actually even just Google “BMI Calculator” for your quick result.
- Desirable range: 18.5-25 kg/m2.
- Blood pressure—Represented by two numbers, the first number is the systolic pressure, which is the highest pressure that occurs when your heart muscles contract. The second number is the diastolic pressure, which is the lowest pressure that occurs when your heart relaxes between beats. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major risk factor for developing cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart failure. You can easily purchase your own automated blood pressure cuff for convenience.
- Desirable range: systolic 120 mm Hg (or less) and diastolic 80 mm Hg (or less)—written as 120/80 mm Hg; the numbers can be different for people over 65.
- Cardiac stress test—This test often is used to rule out heart disease or dysfunction when you have a strong family history, major symptoms, or risk factors. However, be careful about having a stress test during the heat of summer. Heat elevates your heart rate and may affect your test results.
- Computed tomography (CT) calcium scan—The Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication advises all asymptomatic men between 45-75 and women 55- 75 have CT calcium scans to measure plaque and hidden coronary artery disease. (The cost is between $100 to $400 if it isn’t covered by insurance.)
- Scores have a wide continuum. A higher score may suggest the need for further evaluation.
- Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test—The Mayo Clinic suggests the PSA test for men between the ages of 50-70 and men who have an increased risk of prostate cancer. Early detection is important and the PSA test can help detect prostate cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
- Indicating a specific PSA level as low, normal, or high is complicated because the level can rise and fall based on other conditions or medications you may be taking.
- Complete blood count (CBC)—This simple test measures the levels of your red cells, white cells, and platelets. Abnormal levels may be indicators of many illnesses.
- Vitamin D—It is very important to check vitamin D levels, especially with the widespread use of sunblock. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to numerous problems, including depression and bone loss.
- Levels of 20 to 50 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) is considered healthy for most people
- Cholesterol profile—A lipid profile has several components: total cholesterol; LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol; HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol—sometimes called the “good” cholesterol; and triglyceride levels (a type of fat that the body uses to store and transfer energy). You should be tested more frequently as you age or if you have any of the following risk factors: you smoke, are overweight or obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure, have a personal history of heart disease or blocked arteries, or have a family history of heart attack (male relative with heart attack before age 50 or female relative before age 60).
- Desirable levels of cholesterol are total cholesterol under 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL); LDL cholesterol under 100 mg/ dL (under 80 mg/dL is even better); HDL (“good” cholesterol) higher than 60 mg/dL; and ratio of total cholesterol to HDL lower than 4.
- Fasting blood sugar (glucose)—High blood sugar is a signal of prediabetes and diabetes. You can buy a home-use glucometer at a drugstore for less than $25.
- Desired range: 70 to 95 mg/dL. A fasting glucose level above 95 mg/dL is considered prediabetes.
- A1c—The A1c hemoglobin is a measure of the average blood sugar range over an individual’s previous three months,and gives a more accurate view of someone’s risk for diabetes or adequacy of diabetes control. Values between 5.7% and 6.0% indicate prediabetes. Over 6.0% is considered diabetic territory.
- Desirable range for people without diabetes: between 4% and 5.6%.
Know your family history and propensity for disease. Two truths stand alongside each other: You need to know your family history when it comes to health, and you need to know that your family history isn’t your destiny. Talk to your siblings and your parents, aunts, and uncles. You might have good family history or you might have a family history of diabetes or heart disease. Remember, the choices you make can change your family history, starting with you. You can change your genes and extend the life of your cells, and you can have more vibrancy, optimism, and purpose that make life joyful and meaningful.
Know the limitations of doctors and other healthprofessionals. It’s scary to realize that even doctors and medical professionals know how flawed the medical system has become. When it works well, modern medicine is truly a miracle. The promise of greater accessibility, collaboration, and personalization offers hope for better health as you get older.
Make sure your care is customized to you and your needs. Yourhealth care should fit your specific condition, lifestyle, and priorities. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches anymore. You want to choose approaches and treatments that are as targeted and specific as possible.
Become knowledgeable about your health habits and health risks. For better health outcomes, become more knowledgeable about your body, your health issues, the conditions you’re dealing with, and the underlying science of health and your conditions. You will feel, and be, more empowered.
In my next blog, Wellness Warrior, we’ll talk about the life and death of our cells, as well as discuss some of my favorite anti-agingcures, both key to a healthy longevity. Until then, what are some ways you’re taking charge of your health (that you can share in this public forum)?
Live well, Live long!