Boost Self-Care by Knowing Your Numbers

**By Teera Crawford, MD**

When you think about self-care, you might think of yoga, meditation and journaling – not measuring your blood pressure.

However, tracking your critical health numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1C and waist circumference – goes a long way in ensuring both a healthy body and healthy life. Staying on top of these will help you take charge of your health, especially as we continue to navigate the pandemic.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and learning how to identify and keep your numbers in check requires a bit of work up front. However, it is advantageous to keep up to date with this practice in the long run. Read on to understand what these numbers mean, why they’re important and how to incorporate monitoring them into your self-care routine.

Blood PressureBlood pressure

Measuring your blood pressure consists of familiarizing yourself with two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Systolic tells you how much pressure your blood is exerting on the blood vessels with each heartbeat, and diastolic tells you how much pressure your blood is exerting when your heart is relaxing. For reference, an elevated blood pressure is one that is greater than 120/80. Measuring blood pressure can be done from the comfort of your home and is as easy as purchasing and using a quality blood pressure cuff. Pro tip: when you buy a new blood pressure cuff, it’s a good idea to have it checked against the blood pressure cuff used at your doctor’s office to ensure its accuracy.

Total cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that your liver makes and is found throughout all of the cells in your body. Maintaining a certain level of cholesterol is important to keep your body functioning, but an elevated total cholesterol (a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood) is more harmful than helpful. For reference, an elevated total cholesterol is one that clocks in at greater than 200. Obtaining this number requires blood tests done in a laboratory and should be checked at your doctor’s office every five years or so.

If your cholesterol errs on the higher side, or you have a family history of high cholesterol, you’ll want to get this checked a bit more frequently. Work with your doctor to set up the appropriate plan for you to keep this in check.

 Hemoglobin A1C

The hemoglobin A1C test measures the amount of blood sugar (glucose) attached to hemoglobin, or protein in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin A1C is a type of blood test typically used to screen for diabetes and can tell you your average blood sugar level over the three months prior. For reference, a measurement greater than 5.7% indicates a prediabetic range and means you’re at a higher risk for developing diabetes, while a measurement greater than 6.5% means you have diabetes. Check in with your doctor to help develop the right plan for you to stay on top of your hemoglobin A1C.

Waist circumference

Waist circumference is exactly what it sounds like – the measurement of your waist, which can fortunately be conducted at home with a flexible tape measure. Starting at the top of your hip bone, wrap the tape measurer around your body until it reaches the starting point. For reference, your waist circumference should typically be less than 40 inches for men and less than 35 inches for women. Pro tip: try to relax your body when measuring your waist to produce the most accurate reading.

Elevations in any of these numbers can lead to cardiac, vascular and other organ abnormalities over time, and Overweight Woman Measuring Waist in Gymmonitoring and staying on top of them is vital to healthy living. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and elevated numbers increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Frequent exercise is a surefire way to keep everything under control but unfortunately during the pandemic, going to the gym is not an option for all. Alternatives to the gym include online exercise videos that can be done at home or getting outside for a walk or run around your neighborhood.

In addition to exercise, it’s important to communicate about these measures openly, honestly and frequently with your doctor to set yourself up on the right path to healthier living. Pairing these efforts with your other self-care methods of choice will keep you living your best life.


Teera.CrawfordTeera Crawford, MD, is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and specializes in women’s health, preventive care, diabetes and weight management. Dr. Crawford practices at Virginia Mason Lynnwood Medical Center

 

Show Your Heart Some Love with These Five Tips

**By Mariko Harper, MD**

February is American Heart Month, a time dedicated to encouraging you to take control of your cardiovascular health. As the pandemic rages on, leaving those with poor heart health at a higher risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, the need for education around optimizing heart health is at an all-time high.

While most of us are spending more time at home these days, there is no better time to incorporate your cardiovascular health into your self-care regimen. Here are five ways you can put your heart health first during COVID-19:

Spend time getting in tune with your cardiovascular health

Learning what your cardiovascular numbers are, such as your total cholesterol, bad and good cholesterol (LDL and HDL), blood sugar, body mass index and blood pressure, is crucial for building up your heart health. Once you know how to identify these, you can then figure out how to regularly monitor them, as well as ways to keep them under control.

We know this step can seem difficult, or be a lot to take in. Fortunately, the American Heart Association offers a myriad of resources available on its website to help, such as how to monitor your blood pressure at home, understanding what your blood pressure numbers mean and how to improve your cholesterol. Ramping up your physical activity is another way to keep your cardiovascular numbers in check.

Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine

Regular exercise has proven to have substantial benefits for heart health. Daily movement can potentially lead to lower blood pressure, stable blood sugar regulation and healthier levels of cholesterol.

Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine may be easier than you think. Whether you pick up the habit of taking leisurely strolls around the block, or decide to partake in more vigorous workout activities, any movement is good movement. Regular exercise can also provide a tremendous outlet for stress.

Find outlets to reduce stress

It’s no secret that stress levels play a large role in your overall heart health, and that higher stress levels can even make you more susceptible to heart disease. Though a number of stressors in our lives may be out of our control, especially during the pandemic, forming healthy outlets for stress can help you manage.

Finding new hobbies, or embracing old ones, is a great place to start. Maybe you’ll find that you’re secretly an art aficionado, or a master baker or chef. Or maybe yoga and quiet meditation are more up your alley.

Look out for key signs of heart trouble

While most heart health efforts are focused on prevention, it’s also important to be aware of and look out for signs of heart trouble. Though chest discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, many patients don’t directly experience chest pain, but may experience an intense heaviness or pressure, rather than a sharp, stabbing pain.

Other common symptoms to be aware of include sudden shortness of breath, and aches in your arm, shoulder or jaw. Less common symptoms can include nausea, lightheadedness and breaking out in a cold sweat. If you think you or a loved one is potentially experiencing a heart attack, do not hesitate to call 911.

Don’t shy away from routine or emergent medical care

COVID-19 has brought about an absolutely devastating death toll on its own, but research shows that it is also preventing people from accessing the health care they need. Nationwide since the start of the pandemic in February, there has been an increase in deaths due to ischemic heart disease, which is caused by narrowed arteries not being able to carry enough blood to the heart.

Ignoring or delaying both emergent and routine medical care for your heart can lead to an increase in risk of major cardiovascular complications, as well as an increase in the mortality associated with COVID-19. We have robust safety protocols in place here at Virginia Mason to keep you safe during the pandemic, and highly encourage you to not ignore medical emergencies, or even pause your routine medical care.

If heart health is something that you haven’t considered much in the past, this information can be a lot to process. Think of improving cardiovascular health as part of self-care, and keep in mind that all progress is good progress.

While these tips are a great place to start for getting your heart health back on track, be sure to bring up any cardiovascular concerns with your primary care provider.


Dr.HarperMariko Harper, MD is board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology and echocardiography. She practices at the Heart Institute at Virginia Mason. Dr. Harper specializes in general cardiology, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.