5 Heart Numbers Everyone Should Know

By John D Day MD

People do not realize how important their health is until they lose it. The key is to first get educated and then to take action. As a cardiologist at the Intermountain Heart Institute, I see many patients who don’t realize they can control certain factors of heart disease. At least 75% of heart conditions are totally preventable! Here are five numbers that everyone should know and work to maintain the recommended goals.

Heart Numbers Graphic WEB

I must first stress that a vital starting point for a healthy heart is to not smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs - that includes prescription medications.  Assuming you do not have any of these bad habits the 5 goals you should shoot for are as follows:

  1. Total Cholesterol: Goal is less than 200 mg/dL
    • Only half of American adults are at this goal.
    • High cholesterol clogs up our arteries with plaque and other junk which leads to heart attacks, stroke, and death.
    • This can be checked with a simple blood test while fasting.
  2. Blood Pressure: Goal is less than 120/80 mmHg
    • Only half of Americans are at this goal.
    • Any increase in blood pressure above 120/80 is slowly damaging our hearts, brains, kidneys, eyes, and other organs.
    • This should be checked after 5 minutes of resting--I suggest that each home have a blood pressure machine to check blood pressure at home.
  3. Fasting Glucose: Goal is less than 100 mg/dL
    • Half of all American adults are either diabetic (fasting glucose > 125) or pre-diabetic (fasting glucose > 100).
    • Half of all diabetics are completely unaware that they have diabetes.
    • Most pre-diabetic people are unaware that they have pre-diabetes.
    • A glucose test is "standard" with most blood work doctors do--if people are going to have blood work done anyway then they should do it fasting to screen for diabetes.
    • Diabetes damages and ages the entire body especially the heart and brain.
  4. ​Resting Heart Rate: Goal is 50-60 bpm
    • This is a new area of research and an elevated heart rate is a marker of heart disease and death.
    • Interestingly, each mammal, including humans, has about the same number of total heart beats in their lives (perhaps due to modern medicine, humans in the last 100 years now have more total heart beats than the rest of mammals)--for example the mouse and whale both have the same number of heart beats.  The mouse heart beats at 600 bpm whereas the whale's heart beats at 20 bpm.  The mouse "burns up" its heart beats fast and dies long before the whale.  Each human has about 3 billion heart beats in our life.
    • To check our heart rate we can use a blood pressure machine or we can find our pulse, count the number of beats in 15 seconds, and then multiply by 4 to get beats per minute (bpm).
    • If the resting heart rate is too high, above 80 bpm, or chaotic this is a marker that the heart is being stressed too much.
    • It should be noted that the goal peak heart rate with exercise is 220 minus one's age.  Thus for a 60 year-old the goal peak heart rate with exercise is 160 bpm.
    • Even though exercise is a great thing and raises the heart rate while you are exercising it does dramatically lower the resting heart rate.
  5. ​C Reactive Protein: Goal is less than 1 mg/dL
    • This is another new area of research.
    • C Reactive Protein or CRP measures "inflammation" throughout the body.
    • Inflammation is part of the healing process if it is short in duration and resolves like with an infection or injury.  
    • When inflammation never "turns off" it ages the body, damages the heart and is also associated with stroke and cancer.
What can we do to bring these 5 numbers down?

In a previous blog post, I identified three ways people can avoid heart diseaseIf you can faithfully do these 3 things you can easily achieve these 5 goal numbers and save your heart and your health!