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How healthy are you? Check these 6 numbers to find out
Body temperature, calories, pulse and more: Here are the health numbers you should commit to memory.
If only your body were a little more like your car. It would be nice to have a dashboard with warning lights to tell you when your cholesterol is high or your blood oxygen level is low. And who doesn’t occasionally wish they could trade in their current body for a newer model?
But that’s not how it works. Your body doesn’t come with a display panel to monitor your health. So it’s useful to learn how to measure and read the important numbers manually.
You should also have a plan for fixing problems, and that’s where the Optum Perks mobile app comes in. It helps you manage your health by searching for cash-saving coupons on prescription medication.
But first, you have to know when something’s off. For a better idea of how your body should be running, keep reading.
How many calories should I eat?
You may be familiar with the 2,000-calorie benchmark. It’s often used as a rough estimate of how much the average person should eat per day. But on an individual level, it falls short. It doesn’t account for personal differences.
“Many factors can play a role in energy requirements,” says Mary Stewart. She’s a registered dietitian and the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas. “For example, our body composition and activity level influence caloric needs.” Tall people who exercise, for instance, will need more calories than short people who never leave the couch.
“Personal health goals should also be considered when identifying the best number of calories per day,” adds Stewart. “For example, is the goal weight maintenance, weight gain or weight loss?”
That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks its recommendations into 12 caloric levels, ranging from 1,000 to 3,200. The lowest levels are for children, while the highest levels are for very active young adults.
But it’s worth noting that if you’re trying to lose weight, counting calories may not be the best strategy. You might be better off focusing on the quality of the food in your diet.
In a small study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers assigned subjects to one of two diets, consisting of either processed foods or whole foods. The processed-food diet included items such as sweetened cereal, turkey sausage, canned chili, white bread and muffins. The whole-food diet, on the other hand, had whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish and lean meat.
In both diets, subjects were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Yet those assigned to eat whole foods naturally took in 508 fewer calories per day, on average. They also lost about two pounds over the two-week study, while the people who ate processed foods gained two pounds.
The best part: They didn’t have to count calories. (But if you still want hard numbers, an online calorie calculator can help estimate your specific needs.)
What’s a healthy heart rate?
Your pulse (or heart rate) is the number of times your heart beats each minute. It can vary wildly throughout the day. It will climb during exercise, when your body needs more oxygen, and fall during sleep, when it needs less.
But what matters most as a measure of general health is your pulse at rest. This number is also called your resting heart rate. It’s the number of times your heart beats when you’re calm and relaxed.
For most adults, the resting heart rate will fall between 60 and 100 beats per minute, according to Harvard Medical School. But the organization notes that being on the lower end may offer better protection against heart attacks. It recommends talking to a doctor if your resting pulse is consistently over 80.
To check your pulse, follow the method outlined by the Mayo Clinic:
- Press the fingertips of your index and middle fingers against your neck, next to your windpipe, until you feel a beat. (You can also do this on your wrist.)
- Watch a clock or set a timer for 15 seconds. During that time, count how many times your heart beats.
- Multiply that number by 4. That’s your pulse.
Is your pulse high? Take this heart health quiz to learn how to protect your arteries. It might be the healthiest thing you do today.
What’s the average body temperature?
You might remember 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit from grade school. That used to be considered normal. But according to Keck Medicine of USC, a normal temperature is anything between 97 F and 99 F.
Why the shift? For starters, the original 98.6 benchmark was set 160 years ago. But temperature isn’t a fixed number, and it’s not the same for everybody. In fact, average body temperatures have been declining by a fraction of a degree every decade, according to research from Stanford University.
And another recent study of more than 35,000 people, published in the journal The BMJ, found that the average adult body temperature today is 97.9 F. That’s nearly a degree lower than what you probably learned as a child. According to the researchers, factors that affect body temperature include age, circadian rhythm, metabolism, hormones and ovulation cycles.
So when should you worry about your temperature? You aren’t considered feverish unless your temperature is 100.4 F or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Oral and forehead thermometers are both acceptable ways to check.)
Most fevers go away on their own within hours or a day. But according to OSF Healthcare, you should visit a doctor if you have a fever over 102.2 F that meets one of these criteria:
- It lasts three days or more.
- It doesn’t respond to fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- It’s accompanied by symptoms that include a stiff neck, confusion or sensitivity to light.
What’s a healthy cholesterol level?
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a healthy total cholesterol is 200mg/dL or below.
“An individual’s cholesterol profile can give insight into the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome and more,” Stewart says. “It doesn’t tell the complete story of one’s health, but it’s certainly an important piece of the puzzle.”
To find your total cholesterol, you’ll need a blood test from your doctor. It will look at your LDL (the bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). It will also measure your triglycerides, a type of fat associated with heart disease.
Total cholesterol takes all three numbers into consideration. It adds LDL to HDL and 20% of your triglycerides.
If your total cholesterol is above 200mg/dL, you’ll want to create a treatment plan with your doctor, says Stewart. (Here are the cholesterol medications your doctor might recommend.) But while doing that, she recommends these cholesterol-reducing lifestyle changes:
- Eat a whole-food diet. Focus on minimally processed foods, lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates and healthy fats.
- Exercise regularly. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes per week. That translates to 30 minutes, 5 days per week.
- Stop smoking. If you haven’t already, it’s time to kick the habit. Work with your doctor to find a method that works for you.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Women who drink should have no more than one drink per day, according to the National Institutes of Health. For men, the limit is two drinks.
For people over 20, the CDC recommends scheduling a blood cholesterol panel at least every five years. If your numbers are high, you should test more often.
What’s a typical blood oxygen level?
Your blood oxygen level is a sign of how well your red blood cells are delivering oxygen to the rest of the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, a healthy person should have an oxygen saturation (SpO2) of 95% to 100%.
To test your SpO2, you’ll need a small device called a pulse oximeter. Fitness trackers from brands such as Fitbit, Apple and Withings can also read your blood oxygen. (Here's how to use a fitness tracker to manage a chronic disease.)
Chronic conditions such as lung disease and sleep apnea can cause your SpO2 to drop below the normal range. Call your provider if you have a reading below 92%.
What is a healthy blood pressure level?
Blood pressure is the force your blood puts on the walls of your arteries. It’s calculated in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg.
When you look at blood pressure, you’ll see mmHg measured in two numbers, such as 125/80. The top number is your systolic blood pressure. That’s the force pushing on your arteries as your heart beats. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure. That’s the force between beats.
According to the AHA, normal blood pressure is anything below 120/80mmHg. But a deeper look breaks the readings into five categories:
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Elevated: Between 120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic
- Hypertension Stage 1: Between 130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic
- Hypertension Stage 2: 140/90 or higher
- Hypertensive crisis: Over 180/120 is an immediate danger. If you get a reading above this (for instance, with an at-home blood pressure cuff), take a reading again in five minutes. If it’s the same result, call your doctor right away.
If your doctor prescribes medication for high blood pressure, let Optum Perks help. Download our discount card to save money at the pharmacy.
Calorie recommendations: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Unprocessed diets for weight loss: Cell Metabolism (2019). “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake”
Normal pulse: Harvard Medical School
Checking pulse: The Mayo Clinic
Normal body temperature: Keck Medicine of USC
Body temperature is declining: eLife (2020). “Decreasing human body temperature in the United States since the Industrial Revolution”
Average temperature: BMJ (2017). “Individual differences in normal body temperature: longitudinal big data analysis of patient records”
100.4 degrees F is a fever: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Normal cholesterol: American Heart Association
Exercise recommendation: The World Health Organization
Alcohol and cholesterol: National Institutes of Health
Blood oxygen level: National Institute of Health
Understanding blood pressure: American Heart Association
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