Five numbers essential to know that help reveal our true health

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When it comes to managing our health, we all know it's a numbers game. We count calories, watch our weight and track how many miles we run.

We obsess about the stats that keep us fit, but are clueless about the kinds of numbers that reveal how healthy -- or unhealthy -- we truly are. Most of us don't know the difference between systolic and diastolic blood-pressure numbers, nor could we rattle off our body-mass index.

"These are simple things for us to look at," said Dr. David Delaney Elsner, a family physician at the HealthEast Roseville Clinic in Roseville, Minn. "Being aware of these things sooner rather than later can be very helpful for preventing long-term problems."

In these digital times, checking your blood pressure and body-mass index has never been easier. There are blood-pressure apps and even home monitors you can hook up to your iPhone. Online calculators for BMI and kiosks at pharmacies and grocery stores make it convenient to get readings. Many companies offer health screenings for their employees. Still, health experts recommend a physical exam once a year, at which time these very important numbers can be discussed.

Get to know these five barometers of wellness:

BLOOD PRESSURE: less than 120/80

What it is: Measures the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries. "Think of it as a garden hose," said Tasha Gastony, a physician's assistant at the Park Nicollet Clinic in Eagan, Minn. "The higher the pressure, the more risk there (is for) damage to that blood vessel and damage to the organs that those vessels feed."

Why it's important: People with high blood pressure often don't feel any symptoms. Untreated high blood pressure, over time, greatly increases the chances of having a stroke, heart disease or kidney failure.

TOTAL CHOLESTEROL: below 200 mg/dL

What it is: This number is a combination of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and other fats in your blood.

Why it's important: If there's too much cholesterol in your blood, it keeps circulating and that bad cholesterol can eventually enter the blood-vessel walls. A buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries can block blood flow.

FASTING BLOOD SUGAR: less than 100 mg/dL

What it is: Tells you what the sugar content is in your blood.

Why it's important: Helps screen for diabetes.

BMI: less than 25

What it is: Stands for body-mass index. It's a formula that takes your mass (in kilograms), divided by height (in meters squared). It helps determine if you're at a normal weight, underweight, overweight or obese.

Why it's important: People who are overweight or obese are at a much higher risk for health problems such as high blood pressure, coronary vascular disease, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea and arthritis. A BMI that's under 18.5 is considered underweight, and might indicate an eating disorder.

WAIST SIZE: less than 35 inches (women); less than 40 inches (men).

What it is: The circumference around your belly -- the area above your hipbone and below your ribcage.

Why it's important: People with large waistlines have too much abdominal fat, putting them at a high risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary vascular disease.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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