You look good. You feel good. So, you’re healthy, right? Maybe, maybe not. Unless you have real data at your fingertips, you don’t really have a meaningful way to understand how healthy you actually are.
So, how do you get real data? Through a simple screening that measures your biometric markers (also called biometric numbers)—key indicators of your overall health and your risk for chronic or serious conditions.
Once you know your biometric markers and understand what they mean, you will know exactly where you land on the scale of healthy to unhealthy, your risk level for serious or chronic conditions and the changes you could make in your lifestyle to improve your health.
What is a biometric screening?
Biometric screenings can be done on their own or as part of your annual preventive care exam with your doctor. They usually take about 15-20 minutes and involve a few simple tests, including drawing a small amount of blood. Your screening will measure:
- Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Blood Pressure
- Cholesterol (LDL, HDL and triglycerides)
- Fasting Blood Sugar (glucose)
What your biometric markers mean; healthy ranges
Body Mass Index: Typically, BMI is calculated based on your height and weight. For the most part all this involves is stepping on a scale and next to a measuring guide. Your BMI number indicates whether or not you are at a healthy weight for your age. It also helps detect risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer or diabetes, since high BMI is linked to these types of conditions.
In general, a healthy range is between 18.5 and 25, though there are exceptions. For example, people with high lean muscle mass can have a higher BMI and still be at an optimal weight and body fat percentage. Low BMI can indicate you are underweight, which may have its own set of health concerns.
You can lower your BMI by exercising regularly, eating healthier food and watching your portions. Cutting down (or just removing entirely) foods high in fat and sugar also helps.
Blood Pressure: This number determines the pressure of blood against the walls of your arteries. Knowing your blood pressure helps detect your risk for stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. In adults:
- High blood pressure or hypertension is defined as systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher and/or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher.
- Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mm Hg.
When you suffer from high blood pressure, your heart has to beat harder to pass the blood through your arteries, which puts a strain on it. High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack and stroke, especially among those with other risk factors.
Age doesn’t discriminate when it comes to high blood pressure–children and adults can suffer from it. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so it’s no surprise that about 25% of people with high blood pressure don’t know it. People with high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, gout or kidney disease have hypertension more often. It’s particularly prevalent in African Americans, middle-aged and elderly people, and people who are obese, smoke or are heavy drinkers.
Dietary changes and exercise can lower your blood pressure. If you are living a healthy lifestyle and still have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower it.
Cholesterol: This test is done with the blood that is drawn as part of your screening. Your results will include metrics on your total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides. Cholesterol isn’t all bad. It’s an essential fat that provides support in the membranes of our bodies’ cells. Some cholesterol comes from diet and some is made by the liver. Cholesterol can’t dissolve in blood, so transport proteins carry it where it needs to go. These carriers are called lipoproteins and there are two kinds:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol, collects in the walls of your blood vessels, causing the blockages of atherosclerosis (the build up of fatty deposits in your artery walls), which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 mg/dL (3.4 mmol/L). In general, the lower your LDL cholesterol level is, the better.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as “good” cholesterol, is a friendly scavenger that cruises your bloodstream removing harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong. High HDL levels reduce your risk for heart disease, but low levels increase it. HDL cholesterol levels greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are high. That’s good. HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 mg/dL are low. That’s bad. In general, people with high HDL are at lower risk for heart disease. People with low HDL are at higher risk.
Triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels are typically less than 150 mg/dL and can vary by age and gender. Excess calories, alcohol or sugar in the body are converted into triglyceride and stored in fat cells throughout the body. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol seems to speed up atherosclerosis, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Regular exercise (30-60 minutes a day on most days of the week) can pump up your HDL and decrease LDL and triglycerides. Maintaining a healthy weight and being tobacco-free will also help.
Fasting Glucose: The blood glucose test also involves the blood drawn during your screening. It measures the amount of a type of sugar, called glucose, in your blood. Fasting blood glucose tests are done to detect the risk of diabetes (prediabetes) when glucose levels are 110-125 mg/dL.
Glucose comes from carbohydrate foods. It is the main source of energy used by your body. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body’s cells use the glucose. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and released into the blood when the amount of glucose in the blood rises.
Normally, your blood glucose levels increase slightly after you eat. This increase causes your pancreas to release insulin so that your blood glucose levels do not get too high. Blood glucose levels that remain high over time can damage your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.
Regular exercise and regular meals (every four hours or so) will help regulate your blood sugar. What you eat is important too. A diet higher in fiber and complex carbs versus simple carbs is the way to go—not only to decrease your risk for prediabetes or diabetes but for your overall health. Simple carbs things like are pastries, cakes, cookies, donuts and candy bars. Examples of complex carbs are things like whole grains, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, black beans and asparagus.
How to get a screening
There are a few ways you can get a screening at low or no cost:
- Does your employer have a wellness program? You might be able to get your screening for free at an on-site event or at a contracted laboratory like Quest Diagnostics. Check with your company’s human resources team for more details.
- Covered by health insurance? Biometric screenings are covered under your annual preventive care visit. You will likely have $0 copay for the visit but you may be responsible for a portion or all of the lab fees related to the screening, depending on your insurance plan.
- Not covered by insurance or have access to a wellness program through your company? You may be able to pay a fee to receive your screening through a company called Lifeline Screenings. Check to see if there is a location near you. Or, you may be able to go to a Quest Diagnostics lab.
Take Action Now!
Schedule your screening: Find out when your company will offer screenings and sign up. Or, schedule your appointment today with your doctor or at a lab that offers them for a fee.
Share this post: Sharing is caring-especially with something as important to your health as a biometric screening. Forward this post, Tweet it or post it to Facebook so your loved ones, friends and colleagues can learn why screenings matter and they can get theirs scheduled as soon as possible.
Give your lifestyle a hard look: Did you notice that many of the ways you can improve your numbers involve eating healthy foods and exercising regularly? There’s a reason for that. Diet and exercise have a dramatic impact on your health and your quality of life.
Making lifestyle changes that stick isn’t always easy. The best way to make big changes in your body and life is by working with a coach who can take care of all the nitty-gritty details so you can focus on what really matters to you. That’s where I come in.
I created the 8-Week Challenge online fitness and nutrition program to help you change the way you approach health and fitness forever with an easy-to-follow plan and plenty of support and motivation along the way.
You may need a more customized program and an extra helping of motivation and accountability to make changes that stick. In that case, a one-on-one training program may be the best fit for you.
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