Kristen Nichols HeitmanThis is a guest post by Kristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

Every June, Men’s Health Month is celebrated across the country with screenings, community events and other health education and outreach activities. This month gives healthcare providers, public policy makers, the media and individuals an opportunity to encourage men to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.

On average, men are less healthy than women – they tend not to take care of themselves as well as their female counterparts. Compared to women, men are less likely to see their primary care provider for an annual checkup or seek medical care. Studies show they are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior, like drinking or smoking – activities that can cause serious harm to their health.

In recognition of Men’s Health Month, I’ve outlined four important numbers all men need to know to live their healthiest lives: blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). If your numbers are too high or low, your primary care provider can suggest how you can get them in a healthier range. Be sure to ask your doctor what tests you need and how often you need them.

Body Mass Index

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in pounds (lbs) divided by height in inches (in) squared multiplied by a conversion factor of 703. BMI can be used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems but it does not diagnose the health of an individual. BMI appears to be strongly correlated with various metabolic and disease outcomes.

For adults 20 years old and older, BMI is interpreted using standard weight status categories. These categories are the same for men and women of all body types and ages. The standard weight status categories associated with BMI ranges for adults are shown in the following table.

BMI Weight Status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal or Healthy Weight
25.0 – 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and Above Obese

The health consequences of obesity in adults can include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and more. BMI can be used as a screening tool but to determine if a high BMI is a health risk, a healthcare provider will need to perform further assessments. These assessments might include skinfold thickness measurements, evaluations of diet, physical activity, family history and other appropriate health screenings. To make calculating your BMI easier, use CDC’s Calculator.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that travels through the blood on proteins called lipoproteins. Cholesterol is made by your body and used to do important things, like make hormones and digest fatty foods. It’s also found in many foods, like egg yolks, fatty meats and cheese. When you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on your artery walls, which puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. People with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels. Lowering your cholesterol can reduce your risk of having a heart attack, needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty, and dying of heart disease. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking will help you prevent high cholesterol and reduce your levels.

Desirable Cholesterol Levels
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad” cholesterol) Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good” cholesterol) 60 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

There are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol –  a simple blood test is the only way to detect whether your levels are within a healthy range or not. Men ages 20–39 should be screened every three years, men ages 40–49 should be screened every two years, and men over 50 should be screened annually.

Blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common and dangerous condition. Having high blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be. This can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. The chart below shows normal, at-risk and high blood pressure levels. A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high. People with levels in between 120/80 and 140/90 have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at high risk for high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Levels
 Normal  Systolic: less than 120 mmHg
  Diastolic: less than 80mmHg
 At risk (prehypertension)   Systolic: 120–139 mmHg
  Diastolic: 80–89 mmHg
 High   Systolic: 140 mmHg or higher
  Diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher

Often referred to as “the silent killer,” high blood pressure gives no warning signs or symptoms and many people do not know they have it. This is why it’s important for men of all ages to regularly measure their blood pressure to screen for high levels. You can check your blood pressure at a doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or even at home. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication to help control it and prevent major health consequences. Maintaining a healthy body weight, staying physically active, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and eating a low-sodium diet can help prevent or control high blood pressure.

Glucose

Glucose, also called blood sugar, is the main sugar found in the blood and the body’s main source of energy. Your glucose level is the amount of glucose in a given amount of blood. It is noted in milligrams in a deciliter, or mg/dL. High glucose levels can indicate diabetes. Common symptoms of diabetes are urinating often, feeling very thirsty or very hungry, extreme fatigue, blurry vision, cuts/bruises that are slow to heal, weight loss (type 1 diabetes), and tingling, pain or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In people with type 2 diabetes, their body does not use insulin properly. Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes, oral medication, and insulin. This type of diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising moderately – 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

Blood tests are the gold standard for measuring glucose levels to screen for diabetes. Early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing complications from the disease. Men ages 20–39 should be screened every three years, men ages 40–49 should be screened every two years, and men over 50 should be screened annually.

If you haven’t had a health screening in a while, make it a priority this month. Knowing these key numbers can help men stay healthy and happy all year long.

The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.

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