Heart Health By the Numbers

Featured Article, Healthy Heart, Healthy Living
on January 27, 2011

When it comes to keeping your heart healthy, it’s a numbers game—from weight to waistlines, fiber to fat. And while there are no guarantees, it’s a safe bet that if you play the game well, you won’t become another statistic. The landmark Framingham Heart Study found that men who were free of heart disease at age 50 could expect to live, on average, another 30 years; women, another 36. Now that’s heartening news! Here, life-saving digits to aim for from the American Heart Association (AHA) and other experts.

129 — Let your “bad” LDL creep above this number, and your heart disease risk climbs. If you have heart disease or type 2 diabetes, LDL should be less than 100. If you’re at super-high risk for heart attack, less than 70 is your goal.

119/79 — The blood pressure reading to aspire to. Blood pressure represents the force of blood against artery walls; the more force blood exerts, the greater your risk for heart disease and stroke. To keep pressure down, watch the salt, lose weight and exercise.

6 — The number of teaspoons of sugar women are allotted per day. (Men get about 9 teaspoons.) “Added sugar, especially in beverages, raises triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL,” says registered dietitian Dr. Rachel Johnson.

7 — The new upper limit for daily saturated fat intake, in percentage of total calories. That means, if you down 1800 calories a day, 126 calories—tops—should come from saturated fats, which boost LDL cholesterol levels. Scale back on red meat, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils.

<150 — Where your triglycerides should be to keep your heart disease risk down. A level of 150 to 199 is borderline-high. Sweets and alcohol raise triglycerides, so don’t overdo it.

1500 — The AHA’s new, improved threshold for salt intake, just about half of the previous daily limit. Why the shift? We eat far too much. “Salt raises the volume of blood in vessels, which stiffens arteries and triggers signals that raise blood pressure,” says Dr. Richard A. Stein, author of Outliving Heart Disease. Research suggests that slashing just a half-teaspoon a day of salt from your diet would translate into 6 percent fewer cases of heart disease, 8 percent fewer heart attacks and 3 percent fewer deaths.

25 — Grams of fiber, that is. You can get your daily bare minimum through four-and-one-half servings of fruits and veggies and three one-ounce servings of whole grains. (An ounce equals a slice of whole-grain bread, 1/2 cup whole-wheat pasta or brown rice or 3 cups popped popcorn.) In a Minnesota study, people who filled up on whole grains lowered their heart failure risk by 7 percent. And, say Tufts University researchers, people who downed three or more daily servings of whole grains shaved, on average, one inch off their waists and had 10 percent less belly fat than people who shunned whole grains.

2 — The minimum number of servings of fish recommended per week to meet your quota for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Choose oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and fresh tuna. Or take a daily fish oil supplement for a total of at least 1 gram of omega-3s.

60 — Get your HDL cholesterol level to this mark, and you’ll be at the lowest risk for heart disease. At the minimum, women should shoot for an HDL of at least 50; men, at least 40.

34 — The waist size women need to stay under, in inches (39 inches is recommended for men) to keep heart disease risk down. The bigger your waist, the more belly fat you have, a factor that’s associated with heart disease and metabolic syndrome, a serious combination of symptoms including high cholesterol and blood pressure; low HDL; and glucose intolerance or insulin resistance, says AHA spokesperson Dr. Robert H. Eckel.