It is never too soon or too late to make preventative healthcare part of your wellness routine. In addition to scheduling regular medical check-ups and immunizations, an important part of maintaining your health is understanding your risk of serious illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Since most medical conditions develop slowly over several years, paying close attention to potential risk factors identified during screening and through home monitoring can help you address problems before they become serious.
Here are six vital health stats that can help you take charge of your health.
1. Waist circumference
Waist circumference is the distance around your abdomen and one of the most practical tools for assessing your risk of weight-related disease. A larger waist circumference means more belly fat and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.[1,2] Risk level can be identified as:
Male waist circumference greater than:
- 94 cm (37 inches) = increased risk
- 102 cm (40 inches) = substantially increased risk
Female waist circumference greater than:
- 80 cm (31.5 inches) = increased risk
- 88 cm (35 inches) = substantially increased risk
Measuring your waist circumference can be done in three easy steps:
- By pressing inwards along your abdomen, find the top of your hip bones and your lowest rib.
- Wrap the tape measure around your abdomen, half way between these two points. Keep your stomach relaxed, hold the tape measure level and snug, but not too tight.
- Read the tape measure and record the reading.
Bottom Line: Carrying excess belly fat is unhealthy. The key to overall gradual weight loss is making positive dietary changes, increasing physical activity, and balancing blood sugar levels.
Eat a nourishing diet with a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats.
2. Blood pressure
High blood pressure should not be overlooked. It is the uppermost risk factor for stroke and an important indicator for risk of heart disease. There are three categories of blood pressure:
Low risk 120/80 mmHg
Medium risk 121-139/80-89 mmHg
High risk 140+/90 mmHg
A reading less than 120/80 mmHg is generally considered low risk. When your blood pressure is measured above this level on multiple different occasions, you should consult a health care practitioner and begin taking steps to lower your blood pressure.
Blood pressure can be monitored at home and during regular health check-ups. Taking your blood pressure a few times over a period of three days will provide the most accurate assessment. Also remember to take it after being seated for at least 3–5 minutes.
Bottom Line: Overall weight loss, diet modification, and stress reduction techniques are the most effective steps to lowering blood pressure.
3. Blood lipids
Experts recommend that anyone with a family history or strong risk factors for heart disease, as well as men and post-menopausal women age 40 and up, have their blood lipid levels checked. This can be done through a lipoprotein test that measures:
- Total cholesterol
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
A key result of this test is your ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL is considered unhealthy and HDL is considered beneficial because it helps to remove cholesterol from the blood.
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can contribute to the inner walls of the arteries to become lined with fatty deposits, a condition known as atherosclerosis or coronary heart disease.
In addition to elevated LDL levels, triglyceride levels higher than 1.7 mmol/L may indicate an increased risk of heart disease and be a sign of metabolic syndrome. Triglycerides are the main type of fat normally transported in your bloodstream and are used for energy.
Levels are typically within the normal range unless you have an inherited tendency toward high levels or you have a diet high in carbohydrates (sugar) and alcohol.
Bottom Line: Lifestyles changes can help to improve your blood lipid parameters. This means quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and:
- Increasing the amount of soluble fibre in your diet
- Cutting back on or eliminating sugar and processed foods
- Swapping saturated fats for healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in salmon, chia seeds, olive oil, avocados, and nuts
4. Daily step count
It is well established that regular physical activity reduces the risk of chronic disease. But even people who are committed to a daily workout can unintentionally rack up hours of inactivity through daily commuting, sitting at work, watching TV, reading, and other sedentary activities.
Additionally, health surveys show that Canadians tend to overestimate their level of physical activity by more than 50% when compared to their activity tracked using an accelerometer.
Canadian guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. This roughly works out to 10,000 steps per day. Using a tracking device to help count the number of steps you take each day will give you a realistic indication of how active you are.
Bottom Line: In addition to your regular workout, you can increase your activity levels by walking to work or on errands, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and breaking up bouts of inactivity with short walks or jogs around the block.
5. Inflammation levels
Uncontrolled inflammation is a major contributing factor in many chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Monitoring C-reactive protein (CRP) levels helps gauge the degree of inflammation in the body and can be used to flag potential infection and disease. 
Elevated CRP concentrations can also indicate an increased risk for heart disease, even when cholesterol levels are within the normal range.
The test used to measure CRP levels is called the Highly Sensitive C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP). A result that is less than 10 mg/L is considered within the normal range, but should be discussed with a health care practitioner for proper interpretation.
Bottom Line: Bringing CRP levels down means reducing inflammation in the body. You can help do this with moderate daily exercise, weight loss, and following an anti-inflammatory diet.
6. Heart rate variability
Heart rate is an important indicator of your overall physical health. Many things can affect heart rate, such as certain medications, stress, physical activity, and health conditions.
Measuring the variation in beats reflects nervous system activity and can be used as a marker for heart activity and the prediction of cardiovascular events. It is also used for measuring physical fitness.
Many heart rate monitors, whether a smart watch or chest strap, can be used to measure heart rate variability (HRV). This measurement can differ from person to person and will fluctuate throughout the day.
What is important is your trend in HRV over time with the goal to see it increase as you make healthy lifestyle changes. On the other hand, leading a sedentary lifestyle may lower your HRV.
Bottom Line: HRV can give you a measurable indication of how your healthy choices are improving your physical well-being. If your HRV declines or remains unchanged despite making healthy lifestyle changes, it could indicate that something else is affecting your health and should be discussed with a health care provider.
7. Supplements to support
Fibre: Taking a soluble fibre supplement with your meals will help lower the glycemic index of food and keep blood sugar levels steady.
Omega-3: Promotes a heathy cardiovascular system and is important for keeping inflammation down in the body.
Coenzyme Q10: Supports cardiovascular health.
B6 + B12 with Folic Acid: Helps reduce homocysteine levels in the body to support cardiovascular health
Magnesium: Plays a role in hundreds of enzymatic bodily reactions, including metabolising food, synthesis of fatty acids and proteins, and transmission of nerve impulses. Magnesium may also be helpful for promoting healthy sleep.
Take Charge of Your Health
Knowing your vital health stats can give insight into your overall physical well-being and help you take the appropriate steps to lower your risk for chronic health problems. Tracking can be done through regular check-ups, home monitoring, and wearable health monitoring devices.
These are simple, yet effective ways to help you take charge of your health. If you are unsure about what you should take, consult your Naturopathic Doctor or other health care provider.
- Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Health Seekers: Healthy weight and waist [Internet]. Heartandstroke.ca 2019 [cited 21 December 2020]. Available from: https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-weight/healthy-weight-and-waist
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