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Shortcuts: The numbers you need to know to stay healthy

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(CNN) -- If you want to stay in tip top shape then you need to know your numbers. Whether it's keeping your blood sugar levels sweet or your waist measurement in shape, check out our handy health guide.

Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major cause of heart disease and strokes and can lead to kidney disease. Most people who suffer from the condition don't even know they have it, as there are few symptoms. As men get older so do their chances of developing high blood pressure. For women hormonal changes can prompt a sudden rise.

So what's the crucial number? Normal blood pressure is defined as 120/80mmHg. High blood pressure is defined as anything over 140/90mmHg. The first number -- systolic -- is the pressure of your blood when your heart pumps it out round the body. The second number -- diastolic -- is the pressure when the heart is filling back up with blood.

So how can I keep my blood pressure normal? No shortcuts here. If your blood pressure's high then you need to follow a strict health regime including cutting down on salt and alcohol, taking up exercise, reducing stress and giving up smoking.

Cholesterol: This is a fatty substance mainly made by your liver out of the saturated fats in food. Cholesterol is a vital component in maintaining the health of your body's cells. However too much in the system can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. The key to staying healthy is the balance between different types of cholesterol.

In summary low density lipoproteins (LDL) which carry cholesterol from the liver to your cells are bad. High density lipoproteins (HDL) which return any cholesterol your body doesn't need back to the liver are good.

Number crunch: Ideally, your LDL should be under 3 and your HDL above 1. The total should be below 5. You can work out your risk of heart disease by dividing your total by your HDL. The larger the result, the more dangerous for your health; you should aim to be below 4.5.

Keeping cholesterol levels in shape: Once again a healthy diet can have an impact. You can lower your LDL by cutting out saturated fats such as diary products, fried food and fatty meat and eating monounsaturated fats such as olive oil. You can increase your HDL with exercise.

Body Mass Index and waist measurement: Being overweight is generally accepted as being bad for your health and can lead to heart disease and diabetes. There are three main ways to figure out if you're at risk. Firstly, your body mass index, which measures your weight relative to your height; secondly your body fat percentage, which can only be done with specialist equipment, and thirdly your waist to height ratio.

Weighing up the numbers: For BMI, work out your height in meters and multiply it by itself. Then take your weight in kilograms divide it the height figure. Below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5-25 is normal, 25-30 is overweight and 30-40 is obese.

For waist to height ratio, write your height next to your waist measurement. For women the waist figure shouldn't be more than half the height. And for men, the ratio should be slightly less.

Heart rate: Most adults' heart rate is between 60 and 90 beats per minute. Anything above 100bpm when at rest is cause for concern. Those who take hard exercise are likely to have much lower rates than couch potatoes and the obese.

A health beat: A good indicator is to work out your maximal exercise heart rate, which is the fastest rate your heart can reach when exercising. To do this subtract your age from 220. During exercise your heart rate shouldn't reach more than 60 to 75% of the figure you've calculated.

Blood sugar: If the levels of sugar in your blood are consistently too high it can indicate diabetes. Symptoms include increased thirst and tiredness. If diabetes goes undiagnosed, your small blood vessels are damaged which can increase your risk of eye and kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.

Keeping the numbers sweet: Ideally, blood sugar levels should be between 4 and 8mmol/l. But they do vary depending on the time of day: generally aim for 4-6mmol/l before meals, no more than 10mmol/l 90 minutes after a meal and around 8mmol/l before bedtime.


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