Know your numbers, protect your heart

This article was updated on January 7, 2022 to reflect recent information and research.


In this article:

  • Know your numbers to protect your heart health.

  • Blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and BMI help monitor your health and let you know when it’s time to make some healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Don’t delay care. Regular health checkups and screenings can identify potential health issues while they are still in their early stages and at their most treatable.

As the holidays wind down, give yourself one last gift. Give yourself better heart health. Schedule that annual physical you’ve been putting off. And while you’re at it, schedule any health screenings you need as well. Learn your health numbers and common heart terms to empower yourself with knowledge, protect your heart health and improve your overall wellbeing.

Staying up to date on vaccines, screenings and well visits can help you stay healthy and well. If it’s time to schedule a check-up or if you have any concerning symptoms, don’t delay getting the care you need. 

Here are some important numbers to know.

Blood pressure

Nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure. Many are unaware of the ongoing threat to their health, according to the American Heart Association. If left untreated, the condition can lead to life-altering health challenges, including heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and sexual dysfunction.

Blood pressure measures how much force your blood uses to circulate through your blood vessels. Normal blood pressure means that glucose, amino acids and many other precious nutrients can be efficiently distributed through your bloodstream daily. The correct strength of blood flow – neither too weak nor too strong – is directly related to your heart and vascular health.

When your blood pressure is tested, the results are presented in a ratio or fraction, such as 120/80. The top number represents your systolic pressure, which is the pressure when your heart contracts or beats. The bottom number is diastolic pressure, which is the pressure when your heart muscle rests in between beats. Your blood pressure numbers are measured in millimeters of mercury or mm Hg. Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association recommends the following guidelines to gauge your blood pressure health:

Blood Pressure Category

Systolic mm Hg (top number)


Diastolic mm Hg (bottom number)



Less than 120


Less than 80



120 – 129


Less than 80

High blood pressure
Stage 1 Hypertension


130 – 139


80 – 89

High blood pressure
Stage 2 Hypertension


140 or higher


90 or higher

Hypertension Crisis


180 or higher


120 or higher

Elevated blood pressure is a warning stage that indicates it’s time to closely monitor your heart-healthy habits to prevent developing high blood pressure. If you have Stage 1 hypertension, medication may be needed in addition to a healthy diet, reducing stress and lifestyle changes. And if you’re in Stage 2 hypertension, it’s time to take serious precautions to monitor your heart health. Talk to your doctor to determine the medical treatment that best addresses your needs. A hypertension crisis requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings are unusually high and you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, back pain or numbness, call 9-1-1.

Heart rate

Your heart rate is also called your pulse. It refers to the number of times your heart beats in a minute. Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. What’s considered “normal” varies according to several factors, including your personal health history, activity level and overall physical condition. Changes in your heart rate may indicate you have a heart condition or other health needs requiring care.

For most adults, a heart rate between 60 and 100 beats a minute is normal, according to the American Heart Association. You can check your heart rate manually by taking your pulse for 30 seconds and doubling the number of heartbeats you count. If you track your heart rate frequently or your doctor has asked you to monitor your heart rate and rhythm, you may want to invest in a heart rate monitor for better convenience and accuracy. Our recent article, “Which heart rate monitor is right for me?” can help you determine what type of heart rate monitor best meets your needs.


Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is in every cell in your body. Cholesterol is found in some foods such as dairy products and meat and is also produced naturally by your liver. You need some cholesterol to help your body function, but if your cholesterol count becomes unhealthy, it can increase your risk of developing heart disease. A healthy diet helps lower the risk of that happening.

Cholesterol screening measures several different cholesterol levels, including:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the primary source of narrowed or blocked arteries. It is also known as bad cholesterol.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. It’s also known as good cholesterol.
  • Triglycerides are a type of fat that increases heart disease risk, especially in women.
  • Total cholesterol is the combined total of your LDL and HDL.

Healthy cholesterol levels vary according to your age and gender. This chart lists the numbers you should be shooting for, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Type of Cholesterol


Age 19 or younger


Age 20 or older


Age 20 or older

Total Cholesterol

Less than 170

Less than 200

Less than 200


Less than 100

Less than 130

Less than 130


More than 45

More than 40

More than 45


Less than 90

Less than 150

Less than 150

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Obesity increases your overall health risk and makes it more likely you’ll experience high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Knowing your body mass index, or BMI, can help you monitor your weight and know whether it’s time to make changes to protect your health.

BMI is the ratio between your height and your weight. It doesn’t measure fat. Instead, it estimates how much you should weigh based on your height. Use this online BMI calculator to determine your number and check it against the chart below from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Weight Status

Below 18.5


18.5 – 24.9

Healthy Weight

25.0 – 29.9


30.0 and Above


Knowing your numbers can be an essential part of reaching your health goals and improving your quality of life in the coming year. Start your new year off right. Schedule that screening. Go get that lab work. Take control of your health and make 2022 your best year yet.


Find a doctor

The team of primary care providers at Providence can help you learn the critical numbers to keep you heart-healthy. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.

Related resources

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

If you need care, don't delay. Learn more about your options.

Q+A with Dr. Simon: Reducing your risk of heart disease

Ask an Expert: Lowering blood pressure without pills

Ask a Providence expert: Can I reverse heart disease?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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