6 Heart Health Numbers You Should Know

By Ann Foster Thelen

Photo Credit: UnityPoint Health - Des Moines

Nelson Telles, MD

February is Heart Health Month, making it an ideal time to pay extra attention to your heart health. The UnityPoint Health – Des Moines Cardiology experts share tips for pumping up heart-healthy awareness.

One thing that gets our hearts pumping here at the Iowa Food & Family Project is understanding more about fueling our bodies with nutritious foods and being more aware of healthy choices and information.

Your heart is the center of your vascular system and is vitally responsible for just about everything that keeps your body moving and feeling good. The heart is a pump that circulates oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Nelson Telles, MD, cardiologist with UnityPoint Health – Des Moines Cardiology – Lakeview, tells us the six heart numbers you should know to keep your heart health in check. 

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Heart Health Graphic

1. Resting Heart Rate
A normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, with the ideal being between 50 to 70 beats per minute. Dr. Telles says you can measure your resting heart rate by feeling your radial artery pulse at the wrist or carotid artery pulse in the neck. Another easy way is with modern technology. Many wearable fitness trackers now include a heart rate sensor. As long as they are within the normal range, changes to the resting heart rate are likely of no concern. However, persistent heart rates greater than 100 or less than 50 may require further discussion with your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor if you’re wondering how to lower your resting heart rate.

2. LDL or “Bad Cholesterol”
Normal cholesterol is considered less than 130, with less than 100 being optimal and less than 70 being ideal. Heredity plays a role in baseline cholesterol and some genetic traits increase a person’s risk of developing high cholesterol numbers and heart disease. Knowing your family history of cholesterol problems can help your healthcare provider assess your risk of developing future conditions.

3. Body Mass Index (BMI)
A normal BMI is 18-25, while 25-30 is considered overweight and greater than 30 is considered obese. You can use your height and weight to determine your body mass index.

4. Systolic Blood Pressure
Systolic pressure is the top number of the blood pressure reading; if your blood pressure is 120 over 80, 120 is systolic. Normal systolic blood pressure is considered to be equal to
or less than 120 mmHg.

5. Hemoglobin A1c
Hemoglobin A1c is a marker of how much sugar is in the blood; it helps to diagnose diabetes. Normal is considered less than six percent. Your primary care provider can check your A1c levels.

6. Waist Circumference
A normal waist circumference is less than 35 inches for women and less than 40 inches for men. Dr. Telles says waist circumference and BMI are good measures of overall health. They both speak to body composition or the relative measure of lean muscle to unhealthy fat. Too much fat has been demonstrated to correlate to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Telles suggests most people get these health numbers checked every six months to one year at a doctor’s office. He says they may need to be monitored more frequently if the results are out of range or if you’re taking corrective medication.

In addition to knowing these six numbers, Dr. Telles has a few other suggestions for achieving optimal heart health, including a heart-healthy diet, appropriate exercise and getting enough sleep. Adults should engage in daily aerobic “cardio” exercise for at least 30 minutes five times a week to reduce the risk of heart disease.

“Good quality, restful sleep in an appropriate amount does impact heart health in multiple ways. In general, poor sleep leads to a change in metabolism, often leading to weight gain,” Dr. Telles says. “Furthermore, poor sleep leads to fatigue during the day, which certainly makes a person less apt to have the energy to exercise and be active.”

If you have any questions about your heart health or heart numbers, consult your provider.


Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet PrimaveraPhoto and Recipe Credit: Iowa Beef Industry Council

Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet Primavera

This Italian-inspired recipe is a one-pot, fun to make and eat dish that combines ground beef, pasta, fresh zucchini and yellow squash. This Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. recipe is certified by the American Heart Association®.

  • 1 pound ground beef (96% lean)
  • 1 (14.5 ounces) can reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 cup uncooked whole wheat pasta
  • 2 zucchini or yellow squash, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into ½-inch slices
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no-salt added diced tomatoes
  • 1½ teaspoons Italian seasoning

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add ground beef; cook 8-10 minutes, breaking into ¾-inch crumbles and stirring occasionally. Pour off drippings.

Cook’s Tip: Cooking times are for fresh or thoroughly thawed ground beef. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Color is not a reliable indicator of ground beef doneness.

Stir in broth, pasta, squash, tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook 9-11 minutes or until pasta and squash are almost tender and sauce is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.