Yes, it’s that time again! Around this time each year, many of us are presented with our health care plan “options” in the work place. But, before you can decide what “option” is best for you, it is important that you know your “health” numbers. It’s not only in the best interest of the employer (healthy employees keep employer health care premiums down) but also in YOUR best interests as YOU move toward a healthier YOU!
Better yet, some employers are offering incentives. That’s right, if you get a series of screening tests, some employers offer a monetary deduction (or incentive) for just getting the tests done. Why are health screenings so important to YOU? Because screening tests look for diseases before you have symptoms.
Understanding your “health” numbers is the best prevention!
But, you say, “All of this can be so confusing”. “What are my numbers”? “What do they mean”? And most of all, “What can I do to improve those, if needed”? These are all GREAT questions! Even if you are not working, this post will help you get started in learning about important “health” screening tests that are a part of being and staying healthy!
This post will focus on 4 health metrics – total cholesterol (TC), High density cholesterol (HDL-the good or “happy” cholesterol), Low density cholesterol (LDL-the bad or “lousy” cholesterol) and triglycerides. It is also important to know there are other important metrics, such as body mass index (BMI) – a measure of your height and weight that is used to estimate health risk, blood pressure (BP) and fasting blood sugar (FBS). Perhaps we can talk more about those in another post, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The 4 health metrics we’re focusing on now are highlight by the facts that having too high TC or LDL cholesterol, or not enough HDL cholesterol, can put a person at risk for a heart attack or stroke, both of which can be life threatening.
Here are the 3 steps you need to take to get started so that we can limit your risk of these conditions.
First, sign up for the screenings.
I know, “Ugh”! Just the mention of it is overwhelming! The thought of either getting poked with a needle, having your finger “pricked,” or getting weighed can be dreadful all separately. Add them all together – on the same day – and it can seem insurmountable. But no problem, YOU can do this! You just need to take the first step. Remember, you will get the best rate on your health insurance option AND you are taking action to stay healthy!
Second, we need to look at our “cholesterol” numbers. When we hear people talk about cholesterol, it’s usually because their numbers are too high. But did you know cholesterol, especially the good type (HDL), is very important for good health. For more about cholesterol, check out the following link to a site at The American Heart Association (AHA), which is an excellent resource for understanding more about cholesterol. In addition to the link, here is a visual guide of the ranges for our 4 health metrics. You can use this visual as a way to support your journey toward healthier numbers.
The lipid profile measures cholesterol in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter (mg/dL).
Cholesterol Readings that are part of a cholesterol health screening.
Total Cholesterol (TC)
|Acceptable:||200 mg/dl or lower|
|Borderline:||200 to 239 mg/dl|
|High:||200 mg/dl or higher|
|Acceptable:||100 mg/dl or lower|
|Borderline:||130 to 159 mg/dl|
|High:||160 mg/dl or higher|
|Acceptable||45 mg/dl or higher for men and for women|
|Low||39 mg/dl or lower|
|Acceptable:||149 mg/dl or lower|
|Borderline:||150 to 199 mg/dl|
|High:||240 mg/dl or higher|
Let’s take a look at a case that isn’t all that unusual.
Joe just turned 30, is married and has a 3year old son. He and his wife are thinking about having another child soon. Joe works for a company that has “open” benefit enrollment starting next month. Joe has never completed all the health screenings necessary to qualify for the employer “healthy” discount. Turns out, Joe does not have a regular doctor. The occasional time he has had a bad cold or virus, he has gone to urgent care. But now that he is 30, he is seriously considering finding a primary care physician. His wife has been encouraging him to do this. Did you know that men typically do not seek care or go to the doctor as often as women?
Joe thinks to himself, “at my high school physical, the doctor said I was in “great” shape”, which in Joe’s mind means a “clean” bill of health. Joe also thinks, “even if I got all those tests, what the heck do all those numbers mean?” (Sound familiar?) Joe’s grandfather died of a heart attack in his 60’s. Joe’s dad has high cholesterol and needs to watch what he eats. So, Joe has a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease, in 2 generations. After thinking about it, Joe decides to get his numbers checked. Joe believes he is still in great shape and the extra money of getting his cholesterol checked would sure come in handy.
After getting his cholesterol level checked through his employee health screen, the employee health nurse meets with Joe to review his numbers. Joe finds out his TC is 224 and his LDL (bad cholesterol) is 142, both are borderline high, while his HDL (good cholesterol) is low, 38. The employee health nurse states that a copy of the results will be sent to his PCP and that he should watch what he eats. She tells Joe that when he sees his doctor to discuss any other follow up. Joe tells/admits to the employee health nurse he doesn’t have a primary care and isn’t sure what he should eat.
With the help of the employee health nurse, Joe sets 2 short term “SMART” goals. (For more on SMART goal setting, see this earlier post).
Here’s a quick outline:
“S” Specific- you know exactly what you want to do.
“M” Measurable- you can tell what you’re doing or if something needs to be changed.
“A” Achievable -set goals you can control.
“R” Relevant- the goals should be important to you.
“T” Time bound-the time needed to reach your goal.
The third step for us is to set these SMART goals – here’s a path for Joe.
A great SMART goal for Joe might be: I will find a primary care physician, then make and keep an appointment within in the next 2 weeks.
Another SMART goal might be for Joe to learn how to lower his total and LDL cholesterol to within normal limits and raise his good cholesterol to a normal range. Here are a few things he could do to achieve this goal:
- Take part in regular health screenings
- Eat heart healthy foods
- Exercise on most days of the week and increase his overall physical activity
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
- Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Check out this site for more on the steps.
Like Joe, YOU just need to take the first step in finding out what your numbers are. Then, take action to manage your numbers. Think of your body as if you were shopping for a new car, house, or phone. We often spend more time understanding all the features and functions of electronics or when buying a new home than we do when analyzing our health numbers. Better yet, think of it as though you were only going to buy one house, one car or one cell phone – for the rest of your life. You would check out the numbers to get the best deal and thus a high quality product. Why not do the same for your body? It’s the only one you’ll get. Do it for YOU! Take the first step toward getting to know your “health” numbers!
Thank you for reading!