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Four Numbers to Know for Heart Health

In our "Early Show" series, "Heart Score" we will look at ways to avoid the No. 1 killer in the U.S.: cardiac disease. CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton discussed on Wednesday how you can "keep score" on your cardiac health by knowing four numbers: your cholesterol, blood pressure, BMI and waist circumference.

Ashton suggested these guidelines on the broadcast:

CHOLESTEROL
GOAL: Less than 200 mg/dL
HIGH RISK: OVER 240 mg/dL

As you know, there can be both "good" - HDL - and "bad," your LDL. How much you exercise and what you eat contribute to your levels. Too much or too little of one type can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Your target total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. You are at high risk with anything over 240 -- and you have twice the risk of heart disease than people at the optimal level.

To check your cholesterol, you should see a doctor for a blood test.

BLOOD PRESSURE
GOAL: 120 SYSTOLIC, 80 DIASTOLIC

The top number is the systolic reading. It should be the higher of the two numbers and tells you the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number is the diastolic reading, which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats and refilling with blood. The key goal here is to have anything less than 120 over 80. Having anything over does damage to the walls of your arteries. If you're not aware of your readings and it's high and uncontrolled you can be at high risk for a stroke.

WEIGHT: Check Body Mass Index (BMI)
BMI: less than 25

Weight is another vital number for the heart -- excess weight increases the heart's work and raises blood pressure and cholesterol. For weight, it's important to look at your body mass index - which is a value of your weight and height.

From the American Heart Association:
BMIs under 25 are considered healthy, while higher BMIs are associated with significantly increased health risks. People with BMIs of 25 or higher are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. For people in the highest BMI category, they were about two times more likely to have a stroke.

WAIST CIRCUMFERENCE
Women: less than 35 inches
Men: less than 40 inches

Measuring BMI alone won't give you a full picture -- people can have normal BMIs and have abdominal fat. A larger waist measurement can be a predictor of the risk of high blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, woman's waist should be less than 35 inches; for men, it should be less than 40 inches.

The risk of stroke increases about four times compared to individuals with normal waistline measures.

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