Your total cholesterol count measures all the cholesterols and triglycerides (fats) in your blood. The lower, the better—your body needs some cholesterol to perform essential bodily functions like hormone production, digestion, and cell maintenance, but over 200 mg/dL puts you at higher risk for heart disease.
Although you need low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to move cholesterol from the bloodstream to cells in your body, too much is a bad thing. High amounts of LDL can build up in your arteries, forming plaque that hardens and narrows them, potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke. Aim for an LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL (160 or above is high).
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as the “good cholesterol” because it sweeps excess LDL (“bad”) cholesterol away from arteries and to the liver for excretion. While smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight can lower your HDL cholesterol, high HDL counts (more than 50 mg/dL in women, more than 40 mg/dL in men) keep your arteries clean, which means less potential risk of heart disease.
Your body creates some of the fats known as triglycerides, but the rest come from the food you eat. Eating (or drinking) more calories than you burn can cause triglycerides to get stored away in fat cells. A high count (150 mg/dL and above) usually means higher total cholesterol and a greater chance of heart disease.
The force of blood pumping against your artery walls is known as blood pressure. In most cases, a person with high blood pressure (hypertension) has no symptoms, but the heart is susceptible to disease because it’s working harder. Your systolic blood pressure (the first of two numbers in your blood pressure reading that indicates arterial “pumping” pressure) should be below 120, and your diastolic pressure (the second number, measuring the heart’s “resting” pressure) should be below 80.
A fasting glucose tolerance test—also known as a fasting blood sugar test—is a simple and effective way to measure the amount of glucose in your plasma (the liquid part of your blood). Too much glucose can be dangerous; a level of 126 mg/dL or higher points to diabetes, and 100–125 mg/dL could mean prediabetes.
Testing your body mass index (BMI) is a good way for your doctor to determine whether you’re overweight. BMI is calculated by measuring your weight against your height; if the result is over 25, you may be putting strain on your heart with extra body fat.