January 15th, 2021

VIDEO | Know Your Numbers for Heart Health

By Jessica L Waddell MSN, FNP
Nurse Practitioner

To protect ourselves from cardiovascular disease, we must know our “numbers,” including blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and waist circumference.

Yearly physicals can help us keep tabs on these benchmarks, which should be tracked starting in our early 20s.

Blood pressure

The top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic) measures the force on your artery walls when your heart pumps blood through them. The bottom number tells us the pressure against artery walls when our heart rests between beats.

  • Normal blood pressure range:  120/80 mmHg.
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: Between 130 and 139 systolic or between 80 and 89 diastolic.
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: Over 140 systolic or 90 diastolic.

High blood pressure damages the inner lining of arteries that can then become blocked and prevent healthy blood flow. It can also lead to kidney damage and stroke. High blood pressure doesn’t come with warning signs, so to know if you have it, check your numbers.


Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by your liver. You add to your cholesterol by eating certain foods. “Good” cholesterol, or HDL, removes “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, from your arteries.

Too much bad cholesterol from unhealthy eating and inactivity leads to a buildup of cholesterol in artery walls. This narrows and hardens the walls and can cause a heart attack when blood can’t flow freely to the heart.

Understand your cholesterol numbers.

Body Mass Index

BMI is calculated using height and weight. A high BMI can lead to a greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers. You can calculate your BMI with this tool from the American Heart Association.

Here’s what your BMI indicates:

  • Normal weight: 18.5 –  25 kg/m² indicates a normal weight.
  • Underweight: Less than 18.5 kg/m²
  • Overweight: 25 kg/m² –- 29.9 kg/m².
  • Obese: 30 kg/m² or higher

Waist circumference

Waist circumference is the distance around your natural waist at the hipbone. Excess fat around your waist, rather than hips, increases your risk for metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome occurs when someone has a cluster of conditions, such as high triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

A waist circumference of 35 inches or greater for a woman and 40 inches or greater for a man puts you in an unhealthy zone.

Improving Your Numbers

A healthier diet and exercise can improve all these numbers. Exercise alone can decrease blood pressure between 8- 12 mmHG. Exercise also helps with weight management, which in turn lowers our blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.

Diets lower in saturated fat, low cholesterol and eating more in the way of foods in the forms of healthy fat can improve our lipid profile numbers by reducing bad circulating cholesterol and increasing our good cholesterol numbers. Low sodium diets and increasing foods higher in potassium can help with blood pressure reduction.

Medication may be needed to control blood pressure and cholesterol even with these efforts.

Ms. Waddell earned her master of science in nursing degree from George Washington University. As a nurse practitioner, she uses her training and skills to provide high-quality managed care for acutely and critically ill cardiac patients. She is trained to conduct numerous medical procedures and provide a wide range of diagnostic and management services for patients with heart conditions including angina, arrhythmias, heart attack, heart disease, heart failure and hypertension. Her dedication to nursing care and emotional support help to create a more calming environment for patients and their families.