1. What do your omega-3s look like?
Top score: 1.1 g
What it means: The minimum amount of omega-3s you need each day. To check it, ask your family doctor about a blood test during your next visit.
Why it matters: These essential fatty acids have mega benefits: A healthy balance of omega-3s and omega-6s protects your body from inflammation and can lower your risk of arthritis. Individually, omega-3s are important for brain function and may even reduce your risk of cancer and depression.
Improve your grade: Most people already get plenty of omega-6s from vegetable oils in processed foods and takeout—so cut back on those vices and load up on rich sources of omega-3s, such as flaxseed oil, tuna, salmon and other cold-water fish, at least twice a week. (A 2.5-ounce serving of wild Atlantic salmon will give you up to 2.9 g of omega-3 fatty acids, while 1 tsp of flaxseed oil gets you 2.6 g.)
2. Does your blood pressure measure up?
Top score: 120/80 (systolic pressure/diastolic pressure)
What it means: The first number (systolic pressure), represents pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, and the second (diastolic pressure), is the pressure between beats. You can test your blood pressure at your local pharmacy.
Why it matters: We know stress is bad for us emotionally, but it can also cause high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension), a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. “Hypertension affects one in five Canadians and it’s a silent killer because there are no signs,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, cardiologist and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The good news? Healthy blood pressure reduces your risk of stroke by up to 40 percent.
Improve your grade: Reduce stress (a little meditation works wonders!) and keep your blood flowing with regular exercise (at least 30 minutes of moderate activity a day). Abramson also recommends reducing your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg (1 tsp of salt) per day; a 2004 survey found 60 percent of Canadian women exceed that limit. And rethink having a second glass of wine: Alcohol can boost blood pressure, so max out at nine drinks per week.
3. Do you get enough vitamin D?
Top score: 20 mg/mL
What it means: The number of milligrams of vitamin D per millilitre of blood. A blood test can tell you whether you’re getting enough.
Why it matters: Not only does the sunshine vitamin lift your spirits and protect immunity, it also aids calcium absorption. If you don’t get enough, your bones may become brittle.
Improve your grade: Book a vacay! Just a few minutes of summer sun gives you all the daily vitamin D you need. For the rest of the year, take a dose every day (up to 1,000 IUs), or talk to your doctor about fish-oil supplements.
4. What are your glucose levels?
Top score: 4-6 mmol/L
What it means: The number of millimoles of glucose (a.k.a. blood sugar) per litre of blood.
Why it matters: Constant energy crashes could be due to irregular blood-glucose levels, a warning sign for diabetes. “If we catch high blood sugar early, we can reduce the risk for the disease,” says Dr. David Satok, a Toronto-based MD.
Improve your grade: To keep your blood sugar levels healthy, skip sugary foods and keep healthy sweet treats, like frozen grapes, on hand instead. Eat small meals frequently throughout the day and get at least a half-hour of exercise every day. If you have a family history of diabetes or are overweight, get your blood glucose tested annually.
5. Is your cholesterol too high?
Top score: 5.2 mmol/L or less
What it means: The amount of millimoles of total cholesterol per litre of blood.
Why it matters: Forty percent of Canadians have high cholesterol, which can lead to obesity and heart disease, the number-two cause of death for women. But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Lowering your levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) can reduce your risk. “People begin building artery-clogging cholesterol plaque in their 20s,” says Satok. “So it’s something women need to pay attention to at every age.” A simple blood test can pinpoint your levels.
Improve your grade: “You can reduce bad cholesterol through lifestyle changes, like exercise and nutrition,” says Satok. Sneak extra exercise into your day by walking around the block at lunch or running more of your errands on foot. And opt for nonfat dairy and extra-lean cuts of meat, which contain the lowest percentage of fat. It also helps to start your day with a bowl of oatmeal: It’s packed with cholesterol-reducing soluble fibre.
6. What your waistline can tell you?
Top score: 32-36 inches around your waist
What it means: The ideal number of inches around your waist.
Why it matters: Too much belly fat raises your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and even premature death. And even if you’re not overweight but carry most of your extra pounds around your waist (apple shape), you’re at greater risk than someone who’s pear-shaped and carries the weight around the hips.
Improve your grade: Losing just 5 percent of your body weight will improve your overall health. Make every meal about eating more fruits and veggies, cut down on processed foods, skip the sweet treats and get moving! Try a fun cardio routine, like Zumba, or just get outside— a brisk walk burns belly fat.
7. What’s your resting heart rate?
Top score: 60-100 beats per minute
What it means: The number of heartbeats per minute when you’re at rest.
Why it matters: A lower resting heart rate is a sign of a healthy heart and a good fitness level. “The more exercise you get, the lower your resting heart rate and the better your health,” says Abramson. To measure your heart rate, face your palms upward and place two fingers on the thumb side of one wrist. Count the number of beats within 10 seconds and multiply that number by six.
Improve your grade: Work up a sweat for 30 minutes at least five times a week. If you’re uninspired by your routine, go jogging with a friend every morning or join a spinning class at your gym. Even small changes like taking the stairs make a di erence.Climbing just two flights a day can help you shed six pounds in one year!
8. Do you know your bones’ T-score?
Top score: -1 SD and above
What it means: Your T-score, which refers to your bone density, should be –1 or higher. Your bone-density score is measured in units called standard deviations (SDs), which indicate how far you deviate from what is considered normal for a young adult.
Why it matters: Did you know that by the time you turn 18, you’ve already accumulated up to 90 percent of your bone mass? And since bone loss occurs without symptoms, having your bone density tested (ask your doctor about a bone-mineral-density test) is the key to reducing your risk for developing osteoporosis. (It affects one in four Canadian women over age 50.) But don’t fret. There are still ways for the 18-and-older set to bone up.
Improve your grade: Get lots of calcium and vitamin D through diet or supplements (1,000 IUs of vitamin D along with 1,000 mg of calcium— vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so taking them together is best). Look for OJ fortified with vitamin D and calcium for a morning boost. And get moving: Walking, jogging and even dancing help prevent osteoporosis by putting force on your bones, which respond by forming new bone.