Monday 30 March, 2020

'Know your numbers' to prevent non-communicable diseases

Growing up, there were a few key numbers we were taught to memorise in case of an emergency, such as 119 in the event that you need the police, or 110 if there’s a fire or you need an ambulance.

There are other important numbers we have committed to memory over the course of our lives, such as the phone numbers of our loved ones, and this week, I’m adding a few more to the list. These aren’t typical emergency numbers, but knowing and understanding them may save you life at some point or another, as it relates to your individual health.        

You might have heard your doctor or another health practitioner say “know your numbers.” It’s something I tell my clients as well, but what exactly are we talking about?

These ‘numbers’ include your weight/BMI and cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels. They can indicate or assess a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other serious health complications. It is crucial to know these numbers because although you might not be experience any symptoms of health complications, the condition could still be lurking, only to surprise you as you get older.

The next time you are at your general practitioner, be sure to ask for a health screening to know where you stand. This way, you’ll be able to devise a plan if your numbers aren't at normal levels. In most cases, the solution will require changes to your lifestyle–diet, physical activity and stress levels, among others. A little knowledge could prevent you or a relative from developing heart disease. Be informed. Asses you risk levels and see the metrics to get screened for below:



This is a waxy substance produced by the liver that the body needs to perform. However, too much cholesterol the body results in plaque buildup in the arteries, and consequently, increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Total cholesterol is the number to know, as well as both numbers that make it up–HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol).

Ideal total cholesterol: 199 mg/dL or less

Ideal HDL: More than 60 mg/dL

Ideal LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL


Blood Pressure

This is the force of blood against the arteries when the heart beats and when it rests. You risk for heart disease, kidney disease and even strokes increases with high blood pressure. It could also result in dreadful damage to the brain, eyes and arteries.


Ideal: Less than 120/80 mmHg


Blood Sugar/Blood Glucose

This is the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Glucose is a key source of energy for the body, but when the level is too high or too low, it can be a signal of diabetes. If not treated, it can lead to kidney disease, heart disease and other complications.


Ideal: Fasting - 99 mg/dL and below

Non-fasting - 139 mg/dL and below


Body Mass Index (BMI)

This measures your weight in relation to your height and provides a good indication as to whether or you are at a healthy weight. BMI should be less than 25, or between 18.6 to 24.9.


Ideal: Less than 25 kg/m2


Waist Circumference

Excess fat around the waist increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Waist circumference is a better estimate of the dangerous internal fat which coats the organs, visceral fat.


Goal (females): Less than 35 inches

Goal (males): Less than 40 inches


If it is proving difficult to afford regular screening, simple and easy-to-use over-the-counter monitors are available for blood sugar and blood pressure screens. Also, having a scale at home is good to aid in calculating your BMI, and the common ‘tape measure’ your dressmaker or tailor uses can help you keep track of your waist circumference.

Non-communicable diseases (or what I like to call man-made diseases because we have control over them) are silent killers, and can and will affect you health before you even become aware. Ensure that you know these numbers so that you enable yourself to make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep these diseases at bay.

Contributed by Meisha-Gay Mattis, founder of Bodhi, a Kingston-based holistic wellness company. She is a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Personal Fitness Trainer. Email for more information or visit any of the following 

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