Keep track of your numbers, live longer

Categories: Women's Health

Asking Siri to place calls for us has made memorizing our best friends' phone numbers unnecessary. But there are some numbers you can't get from your smartphone — numbers you should know by heart and for your heart.

Your Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol levels and blood pressure are key indicators of how healthy you are and how at risk you might be for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Unfortunately, too few of us know our numbers.

Regular checkups with your primary care physician will help you keep track of all of your vital digits: blood sugar, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and T-score for bone density.

Working with your doctor, you should also get regular skin exams, colon cancer screenings, Pap tests and breast imaging. CT scans have proven effective in detecting lung cancers early in smokers and former smokers. If you have a family history of cancer, your doctor might recommend genetic testing.

For instance, a genetic counselor can help you find out if you have a BRCA mutation or other issue that puts you at greater risk of breast cancer. A few websites can also help assess your breast cancer risk, including BrightPink.org.

Knowing these numbers can be a little intimidating, but it is also empowering. The knowledge that you are at increased risk could motivate you to take action, become engaged in your health and make choices about everything from prophylactic surgery to smoking cessation.

Similarly, people who learn that they are at high risk of diabetes can do something about it before the disease takes hold of their lives.

Women who become diabetic during pregnancy, for example, have a 30% to 50% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and should continue to be screened annually after they give birth. Unfortunately, too many women — and their doctors — don't realize gestational diabetes puts moms-to-be at greater risk for several years after delivery.

Again, knowing your numbers will help: your fasting blood sugar, your hemoglobin A1C concentration and your ideal weight will help paint a picture of your risk.

Another important number to memorize: 10,000.

That's the number of steps you should take per day. While recommendations on how much exercise you need to lose weight varies, most health experts agree that taking 10,000 steps or more daily is a step in the right direction for staying healthy.

Research shows that walking 30 minutes a day reduces your chance of premature death by 20%. And another study of people with Type 2 diabetes found that those who walked 10,000 steps or more over a nearly two-month period lost on average 16 pounds more than a control group that walked just 4,000 steps a day. And with pedometers ranging in price from $1.50 to $150, keeping track of your steps should be simple.

If injury or other issues make walking too difficult, get to a pool. Swimming and water aerobics are great exercise — and much kinder on joints.

As you think about your health, here are two more important numbers to keep in mind: 81 and 76. Those are the average life spans for a woman and a man, respectively, in the U.S. today. By paying close attention to your vital digits, you can do your best to reach those numbers — and hopefully beyond — in the best shape possible.

DR. ALLYSON BROOKS practices at Hoag Hospital and lives in Newport Beach.