If your new year’s goal for 2022 is to stay in good health—and whose is not?— then there is a simple and practical way to help yourself achieve this goal. By regularly keeping track of your core vital signs, you can stay on top of your well-being as well as catch health issues early, so you can have the best chances for successful treatment.
The most common causes of death in America today are connected to sicknesses that are often treatable if addressed quickly, including heart disease, cancer and Covid-19. To help you catch issues such as these as soon as possible and improve your health outcomes, it pays to know what is normal for four core areas of your body’s wellness—blood pressure, breathing, temperature, and heart.
Here is a practical look at how your vital signs can help you stay on top of your health in 2022.
When your heart beats, it pushes blood through your body, exerting a certain amount of force on the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure is the measurement of that force, with an average healthy number being 120/80. The top number is your systolic pressure, referring to the force of blood during a heartbeat. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, the force of blood when your heart is resting between beats.
When blood pressure becomes high (anywhere from 130 and over for the top number, 90 or higher for the bottom number), it can put you at a greater risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. And it does not always have accompanying symptoms, so you may not realize your blood pressure is high unless you visit a doctor for a checkup.
In addition, other underlying conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease can make high blood pressure even riskier. Thus, lowering your blood pressure can benefit your ongoing wellness.
The good news is, if you take action early and diligently, there is much you can do to improve your blood pressure.
What you choose to eat and drink can play a strong role in your blood pressure. First, reduce your salt intake by choosing lower-sodium foods, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating fewer processed foods (which are often high in salt).
Increasing your potassium intake is also important, so eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas, leafy greens, beans, lentils, potatoes and avocados.
Lowering your fat intake is also beneficial, as it helps lower cholesterol, a contributing factor in high blood pressure. Say no to processed foods, fast food, and fried food. Choose lean proteins such as chicken and fish.
Being overweight is a significant factor in high blood pressure, so it is beneficial to get to a fitting weight for your height and frame. A healthy heart diet that is low in sodium and lower in fat often has the added advantage of helping you to become more lean.
Regular exercise also helps. And since a more sedentary lifestyle contributes to higher blood pressure, becoming more active is another important step in caring for yourself. Aim to get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate aerobic activity such as brisk walking each week. Consult your doctor for suggestions on how best to work out.
These habits both contribute to higher blood pressure, so it is good to limit or eliminate them. Alcohol consumption adds to your weight as well, while smoking increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
To improve this area of your life, aim to get no more than one drink per day for women, or two drinks a day for men, or less. If you are a smoker, consult with your physician on healthy ways to quit.
Another major contributing factor to blood pressure issues is stress, especially if you experience it on a regular basis. If this sounds like you, then take steps to reduce stress.
Make time for relaxation, and use stress-reducing techniques such as listening to soothing music, exercise, time outdoors in nature, yoga, and meditation. These activities have the added benefit of improving your physical and emotional well-being.
High blood pressure is such a contributing factor to other illnesses that it is vital to turn to medical guidance for the best solution to your specific situation. A trained physician can help you identify any medications you need to lower your blood pressure to healthy levels, as well as how to incorporate alternatives such as diet and exercise so that you get the safest, healthiest results.
Special Note: If you have been diagnosed with or have had high blood pressure (hypertension), please see your doctor for specific guidance to ensure you are doing what is medically best for your body.
The arrival of Covid-19 has brought increasing attention to an area of wellness many people otherwise overlook—healthy breathing. Strong, clear lungs can help you feel better emotionally, give you more energy, and benefit your overall well-being.
There are a variety of medical conditions that can limit your lung capacity, such as asthma, COPD, pneumonia, and upper respiratory infections.
But even if you are generally healthy, you may have developed poor breathing habit. This is a common development as we age, getting out of the habit of breathing from the diaphragm (aka, the abdomen) and into the habit of breathing from our chest (thoracic breathing) without even noticing we are doing so. It is also common for people to breathe more shallowly and more often, instead of taking slow, deep breaths.
These habits can limit our lung capacity. This puts us at greater risk when we develop respiratory illnesses, and also makes it harder to recover and/or cope with them.
Proper breathing starts with drawing in air mostly through the work of your diaphragm muscles. When we take in air this way, it helps our lungs to expand more fully. It’s easier for old, stale air and carbon dioxide to leave our system, and gives us more room to bring in fresh, energizing oxygen.
Since our bodies operate on the “use it or lose it” principle, we tend to lose lung capacity if we are not breathing properly. But through breathing exercises, we can retrain our diaphragm muscles and our lungs to expand more fully, allowing us to take in more air and making our lungs more resilient.
Deep breathing exercises are great at teaching your body to properly inhale, and they also strengthen your lungs. To practice deep breathing, take the following steps:
Special Note: If you have been diagnosed with lung or breathing issues such as COPD, or have persistent, undiagnosed symptoms, consult with a physician to be sure these tips are appropriate for you. And if you continue to have shortness of breath or cannot get your breathing under control, get medical attention immediately.
Your temperature reveals a lot about how your body is doing. It can be affected by many factors, such as your age and sex, time of day, how well hydrated you are, how recently you have exercised, and more, including illness.
Your body is very good at sensing your temperature and bringing it back to a healthy range. This work is done by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus tells your body to shiver to create warmth and to sweat to cool down. It is also what causes you to have a fever when you have an infection.
A temperature that is higher or lower than normal can indicate that your body is struggling to fight its way back to health. So, it is a vital way to know when you may need to seek medical care.
You have probably heard that a normal temperature for adults is 98.6° F (37°C). And while this is generally true, this number is an average. It is better to keep in mind that the range of 97.6–99.6°F is considered healthy for adults up to age 65 (for those over 65 years old, the range is 96.4–98.5°F).
Of course, everyone’s body is unique, and your normal temperature may be slightly higher or lower than the average. As many as 75% of people have a resting temperature that is not regularly 98.6°.
The key is to know what is normal for you, which is why it is a good idea to regularly take your temperature and know your body.
Properly responding to a fever begins with understanding that there are different ranges for fevers, which can influence what type of care you may need. Here is a handy chart for reference:
Below normal: Lower than 95° F
Mild to moderate: 100.4-103° F
High: Above 103.1° F
Very high: Above 105.8° F
If you experience a moderate to high fever, or a fever that is below normal, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Both conditions can be dangerous if not treated quickly, especially if you are experiencing other symptoms as well, such as confusion, headache, or difficulty breathing.
There are four ways to get a temperature reading: orally (in the mouth), rectally, in the armpit, and in the ear. The best method depends on a person’s age and the type of thermometer being used.
A digital thermometer tends to be the most accurate choice for any age and can be used orally, rectally (especially for babies and toddlers under 3) or in the armpit as needed. For young children and adults, an ear thermometer is also a handy, accurate option.
You should avoid using forehead thermometers and old-fashioned glass mercury thermometers. Both devices tend to be less accurate and may give imprecise readings.
Special note: Because hypothyroidism, cancer, pregnancy and other medical conditions can affect your average temperature, be sure to check with your doctor to see what you should consider normal, low, and high for you, and monitor yourself according to their instructions.
Like your temperature, your heart rate can be a strong indicator of your wellness. In general, a normal resting heart rate for adults (how many times your heart beats when you are at rest) is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
This number can be affected by many factors, including stress, level of activity, athleticism, anxiety, and more. Even small factors such as whether you are standing, sitting, or walking can affect your heart rate. And so can foods like coffee.
Being at the lower end of the normal spectrum tends to be healhier because a lower heart rate means your heart is not having to work as hard. A higher heart rate is associated with lower fitness levels, higher blood pressure, and higher weight. But everyone’s body is unique, so it is a good idea to become acquainted with what is normal for you.
When you exercise, it is important to raise your heartbeat high enough to create exercise for your heart, but not so high that you overwork your heart. This means knowing your maximum heart rate and learning to exercise within your target heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate, which depends upon your age. (See chart for more information.)
When you exercise vigorously, your heart should work in the age-appropriate target heart rate zone of 50-85% of your maximum heart rate. If your heart rate gets too high while you work out, slow down and exercise less vigorously. If your heart rate is lower than the 50% target, step up your workout a bit to boost your heartrate.
Be sure to consult a doctor before starting any new exercise plan, as your current health and medications may make it wise to work out at the lower end of your target heart rate.
You can get your resting heart rate by taking it in the morning before you get out of bed. Place the tips of your first two fingers on your wrist until you find your pulse, then count your heartbeats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to get your heart rate. This procedure is also an easy way to take your heartbeat when you are working out.
There are also monitors and devices you can use to keep track of your heart rate. This includes fitness trackers that you can wear, various smartphone apps, and blood pressure cuffs that can be bought over the counter.
Special note: If you have been diagnosed with heart palpitations or arrhythmia, please see your doctor for more specific guidance. Medications and certain physical conditions can lower your maximum heart rate, your target zone for exercise, and more.
The above tips can help people become more aware of how to improve their overall health. But they do not take the place of personalized medical guidance. Before embarking on any specific health advice, consult your physician, and work with them to develop an individualized health plan that focuses on your unique health needs.
Taking care of your health is one of the most important decisions you can make. And our caring team is here to help you make the most of your wellness, including choosing the most appropriate medical plans for your personal needs.
Whether you have concerns about your vital signs, have symptoms you need checked, or simply have questions, we are here to serve you. Contact us to set up a consultation so you can move toward greater wellness in 2022 and beyond.