We wish it was as easy as knowing your 1-2-3's or your ABC's but it is as critical, maybe even more. Most of us aren’t rushing out to have our biometric numbers checked, at least not regularly. But knowing what your biometric numbers are and what they mean for your health is incredibly important for preventing a whole host of things, from diseases to even the common cold.
Biometrics refer to the measurement of your blood pressure, blood glucose, Body Mass Index (BMI), and cholesterol levels. The measurement of these numbers at any point can indicate good overall health, suggest areas for dietary or lifestyle improvements, or detect early risks for disease.
Knowing these numbers not only provides a good roadmap to follow for making any necessary lifestyle adjustments, but having them screened regularly also provides a platform to catch any potential problems early. Prevention is key to treating small problems before they become big problems!
Biometric Numbers: What They Mean
Biometric screenings may be offered by your employer as part of a workplace wellness program. If they’re not, you can have your biometrics screened by your physician during your annual physical or at a nearby health clinic.
Most “Wellness screenings” capture the measurements of your blood pressure, blood glucose (sugar), body mass index (BMP), and cholesterol levels. Each of these and their results provide a snapshot of where you are at that point in time. Here’s a closer look at what’s being measured by a typical Wellness screening, and what it means:
Blood Pressure - This measures the level of pressure in your large arteries as a result of your heart pumping blood throughout your circulatory system. This measurement provides two numbers - a top number, called a systolic number and a bottom number, called a diastolic number. Ideally, you want your systolic number to be lower than 120, and your diastolic to be lower than 80. Having numbers higher could indicate a risk for developing hypertension.
Blood Glucose - Glucose is a simple sugar that provides our organs and muscles with essential energy that comes from the food we eat. If you’re fasting before getting screened, a blood glucose reading of 80-99 mg dL is normal, or 80-140 mg dL if you’ve eaten. Numbers outside of these ranges could indicate risk for diabetes, pre-diabetes or hypoglycemia, but learning them early can also help delay or prevent potential problems from progressing!
Body Mass Index (BMI) - Body mass index is a measurement of a person’s mass (weight, muscle, body fat) and height. A BMI number is not diagnostic or representative of a person’s overall health, but can be generally helpful as an added snapshot when considering any potential health risks.
LDL Cholesterol - LDL, sometimes referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, is one of the types of lipoproteins that carries cholesterol to and from your cells. This is an important function, but having too much LDL (and not enough HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol lipoprotein) can cause fatty build-up in your arteries. Fatty build-up, over time and if left untreated, can lead to heart disease and stroke. If the practitioner determines that your LDL cholesterol is too high, they may prescribe a medication to help lower it.
HDL Cholesterol - HDL Cholesterol, or the ‘good cholesterol’ is what absorbs the LDL cholesterol lipoproteins and carries it away from the arteries and back to the liver. Once at the liver, the LDL can be broken down and passed through the body. Having too much LDL present in the body and not enough HDL to help flush it out, though, can result in LDL artery build-up, leading to health concerns. Ultimately, maintaining a healthy level of HDL cholesterol can help protect you from heart attack and stroke.
Total Cholesterol - Your total cholesterol level is the total amount of cholesterol (LDL + HDL) in your blood at any given time. You can find out your total cholesterol level by doing a blood test called a lipoprotein panel. This will give you a good measure of where your total cholesterol levels currently stand and any lifestyle adjustments you should make to keep your biometrics within the healthy ranges.
Lifestyle Changes for Improved Biometrics
Change can be difficult. The key to success is to ease into it, setting small goals over time and gradually adding to them as needed. If your biometrics aren’t where you’d like them to be (or if in general you just want to create healthier habits!), here are some lifestyle changes you can start setting some goals for today:
Eating a diet full of nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, and protein - can do wonderfully positive things for your body. In fact, adults who eat a healthy diet not only live longer overall, but their risks for developing diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses is significantly reduced.
Plus, eating healthfully doesn’t have to be boring! EatingWell.com is one great source for ideas on tons of delicious healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes to add to your routine.
Poor sleep may be one of the most often overlooked culprits for disease. Sometimes getting a full 8 hours of sleep can be difficult, but prioritizing it can make a big difference both in how you feel and in your biometrics.
The Sleep Foundation reports that sleep deficiency can lead to higher risk for obesity, heart problems, insulin management, and more, and recommends maintaining good sleep hygiene. Examples of good sleep hygiene can include a consistent sleep/wake schedule, a bedroom environment that is optimized for quality sleep, and incorporating healthy habits that support a good night’s rest (healthy diet, exercise, etc.)
We all have moments when we feel stressed. The key to having good overall health is to not allow stress to linger. When we’re stressed, our body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing our blood pressure to rise, our muscles to tighten, and our glucose levels within our blood stream to increase, making our heart beat faster. This response is useful when we’re actually in danger (our fight or flight response!) But remaining in this state for too long during non-life threatening situations can have a negative affect on our health.
Fortunately, there are many healthy ways for reducing daily stress. Using a meditation app (like Calm or Headspace), going for a walk, practicing breathwork, and developing positive self-talk habits are just a few of them. Maybe there’s something you enjoy doing that you haven’t done in a while? For many, just going fishing, reading or prioritizing whatever it is they love doing helps them relieve any stress.
Regular exercise provides tremendous benefits to our bodies, our mental health, and our biometric numbers! Just adding 30mins of moderately intense exercise each day can help reduce stress, improve sleep, boost your mood, control weight and metabolism, and provide you with more healthy energy.
And with so many different forms of exercise, don’t settle for anything that doesn’t feel natural! From aerobics (walking, jogging, cycling) to strength training, to flexibility and balance exercises, finding the right fit may take some trial and error, but once you get into a good routine with an exercise you enjoy, you’ll see and feel the benefits all over!
What Are the Next Steps?
Learning your biometric numbers is the best place to start when developing a plan for improved health. If it’s been a while since your last screening, check with your employer to see if onsite biometric screenings or home test kits will be offered soon and be sure to make an appointment or set a reminder for yourself as needed to attend.
If your employer doesn’t have an upcoming screening scheduled or doesn’t offer them, consider making an appointment with your physician or local health clinic. Once you know your biometrics, you can talk with your physician, a dietitian, and/or health coach to get a healthy plan in place. Integrating small lifestyle changes within the categories mentioned above and in other areas will help maintain healthy biometrics and keep you feeling your best.