Back to basics: What these 3 vital factors mean for your health
Over the years at your annual check-ups, chances are the doctor, nurse or assistant wrote down your “vital signs” in your chart.
The next time you go, here are three factors you should focus on:
- Your blood pressure
- Your height and weight in order to calculate your body mass index or “BMI” (a measure of body fat based on height and weight)
- Whether you use tobacco
These three vital signs are closely linked to four of the top five health conditions treated in the U.S.: diabetes, heart disease, asthma and hypertension (high blood pressure). When you’re outside of the “healthy ranges” for blood pressure or BMI, you’re put at greater risk for these potentially life-threatening conditions. And smoking – even occasionally – increases your risks.
Knowing about these vital signs and taking steps to improve them can have a big impact on your health. Did you know:
- Lowering your blood pressure reduces your chances of heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease. Hypertension was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death in about 348,102 of the more than 2.4 million U.S. deaths in 2009.
- Getting your weight under control can improve or eliminate a host of conditions related to obesity: coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, reproductive problems and even gallstones. (In one study, overweight people who increased physical activity to 150 minutes of exercise per week and had a 5-7% weight loss reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.)
- Quitting smoking can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer (all cancers, not just lung cancer), diabetes, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cataracts, gum disease, reproductive problems, rheumatoid arthritis and more.
Vital sign guidelines
- Your blood pressure should be less than 140/90, and ideally less than 120/80.
- Your BMI should be between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything over 25 is considered overweight, and 30 or more is considered obese.
- If you use tobacco, talk to your doctor.
Keeping an eye on these three vital signs can help you prevent many serious illnesses or diseases. The key is to stay within healthy ranges. If your vitals aren’t where they should be, ask your provider what you can do to get them in shape.
Paula Carlton is a nurse practitioner at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, Wis.
About the Author
Paula Carlton, NP is a Nurse Practitioner at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, WI.