Biometric screening — the phrase can call to mind sci-fi body scans or complicated tests. But it’s actually quite simple! It’s any measurement of your physical characteristics, such as height, weight, blood pressure, or blood sugar that gives you insight into your overall health. It’s smart to know your biometric numbers and what they mean — here are the four most important:
Blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But it often has no warning signs or symptoms, so people don’t know they have it. Ideally, for people with normal blood pressure, your top number (systolic pressure) should be lower than 120 and your bottom number (diastolic pressure) should be lower than 80. If your blood pressure is a bit high, a doctor may recommend tweaking your diet (less sodium, more fruits and vegetables), quitting smoking or starting an exercise program.
Blood Glucose (blood sugar). More than 90 percent of people who are prediabetic don’t know it. Learning your blood glucose numbers can potentially help you prevent or delay becoming diabetic, or help you make necessary lifestyle or medical changes to better control your sugars. If you have prediabetes and are overweight, for instance, losing even a small amount of weight (5 to 7 percent) can help cut your risk of developing diabetes. For people without diabetes, a fasting glucose under 100 mg/dL or A1C under 5.7 percent is normal.
Body Mass Index or BMI. BMI is an easy and inexpensive way to measure body fat. Being overweight or obese brings with it an increased risk for high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some cancers, mental illness and more. A BMI of 18.5 or lower is considered underweight, 18.5-24.9 is normal or healthy weight, 25-29.9 is overweight and 30 and above is obese. But keep in mind that a high BMI in someone who is more muscular doesn’t mean we should automatically label them unhealthy.
LDL cholesterol. If your LDL cholesterol is too high, that puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke — the two major causes of death in the United States. If your LDL cholesterol is 190 mg/dL or higher, your doctor might prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication.
Next time you go to your doctor, remember that biometric screenings are meant to be another powerful tool to improve people’s health — and potentially kick-start some lifestyle changes.