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Statistics That Matter

By Kellie Heywood

When it comes to your health, do you know the statistics that matter?


              Statistics That Matter

If you’re a red-hot sports fan, it’s likely you can reel off a hot statistic or two. Whether it’s the odds at the racetrack, Bradman’s average or your favourite footballer’s recent performance, these are the numbers that have a tendency to stick in the brain.

But when it comes to your health, and your risk of developing serious disease, are you as well informed?

Eyes on the prize

Good health is a complex thing, and something that can’t be entirely captured by a few numbers or the results of a couple of tests. But it is certainly true that by keeping an eye on a couple of key indicators, you have a powerful way to chart your progress in living a healthier lifestyle and looking after your body.

If your numbers don’t look so flash at the moment, the important thing to remember is that good habits, the small things you do every day, build a healthier body. Everything positive you do helps, and the key is to work at doing it consistently. Not only will your vital statistics improve but you’ll enjoy the health benefits that come along with it.

Waist circumference

Being overweight or obese has been linked with increased risk of developing a number of chronic lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

Of course there are a number of ways to keep track of your weight, but research has identified waist circumference as an easy and valuable method to gauge your risk of these conditions.

For men, a waist circumference greater than or equal to 94 cm is associated with increased risk, and greater than or equal to 102 cm with greatly increased risk. These figures are for men from a European or North American background; for men of Asian and Central/South American descent, a waist circumference of 90 cm greatly increases risk, while the cutoff is 94 cm for men of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and sub-Saharan African background.

Blood cholesterol

Atherosclerosis (which is the build-up of fatty material within your arteries) is strongly influenced by the amount and type of cholesterol you have in your blood.  If arteries become blocked it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart attack and stroke).

Not all cholesterol is bad. While elevated levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides boost your chance of problems, HDLs (high density lipoproteins) help protect your heart and arteries. 

So it’s a combination of all these numbers that is important. To find out what your cholesterol levels are, have them regularly checked. If they are higher than they should be, your doctor can give you target levels to work towards. And there’s plenty you can do to improve them. What you eat can have a significant effect on your blood cholesterol, as can your level of physical activity and there are medications that can help as well.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force with which the blood pushes against the arteries as the heart beats. If it’s high, over time it can give arteries a bit of a beating, stretching and damaging the walls. This can increase the risk of them tearing and of blood clots forming.

A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers: the top number is the systolic, or maximum, pressure of the blood that occurs with each heartbeat and the bottom is the diastolic, or minimum pressure, which occurs while the heart is filling with blood between each heartbeat. Generally blood pressure is considered to be high when the top number is greater than 140mmHg and the bottom number is greater than 90mmHg.

Again, there is a lot you can do to reduce your blood pressure, if it’s high. Cutting back on salt, losing weight, increasing the amount of physical activity you do and cutting back on alcohol can all help, and, if that’s not enough, medications are available too.

Physical activity

Being physically active is so good for you it could almost be called medicine. Among many other things, it has been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and depression. We’re not talking about becoming an elite athlete here but rather making sure you fit regular moderately intensive exercise into every week (and preferably every day).

Health authorities recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week, although of course for extra benefits you can do more. Not only are there heaps of benefits for your health, you also stand to gain extra fitness, endurance and strength, improved sleep and a better mood.

Unfortunately, most of us just don’t manage anywhere near enough physical activity. It can be hard to fit it into a busy schedule but if you can make it a priority, it will certainly pay handsome dividends. If you haven’t exercised in a while, and you’re out of shape, take it slow and increase the amount you do gradually.

Want more?

Why not fill in or update the Wellness Record? It provides a wealth of information, including your Wellness Score, out of 100, and your Health Age, so that you can compare how you’re tracking compared to your actual age. The Wellness Record also provides recommendations on how best to improve your fitness, reduce your risk of disease and ill-health, and boost your wellbeing.

Reference:

Harris MF (2013) The metabolic syndrome. Australian Family Physician 42: 524–527.