Heart and Vascular

Know your numbers for heart health: a guide for people 50 and older

Senior couple smiling, sitting outside and embracing each other.


Find out what blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels mean so you can feel well and enjoy your life.


By Sunny Intwala, MD, Cardiology, The Heart Center, part of Nuvance Health 


You have things to do! This is why your heart health matters, whether you are an avid walker, taking up a new sport, focusing on your career or being there for your family. As we age, maintaining heart health becomes increasingly vital to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and ensure quality of life. 


One key strategy for achieving this is to “know your numbers.” Understanding and actively managing specific health metrics can provide valuable insights into your cardiovascular well-being and overall health. 


Let’s explore the critical numbers people aged 50 and older should be aware of to promote heart health and longevity. Please note these are guidelines and targets may vary from person to person. It is important to consult with your doctor on what is best for you. 



What is the normal range for blood pressure?


Blood pressure is a crucial indicator of your heart health and has even greater significance the longer you live. The risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, tends to increase with age. It is essential to monitor blood pressure regularly and aim for readings within the normal range — around 120/80 mm Hg. Your blood pressure should fall within this range regardless of your age. However, talk to your doctor about whether your blood pressure numbers fall within a range that is right for you and your overall health. Elevated blood pressure can strain the heart and arteries, contributing to serious health issues, including heart attacks and stroke.



Regular checkups with a primary care provider are important for people 50 and older to manage blood pressure effectively. Lifestyle modifications such as a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise and stress reduction, play pivotal roles in maintaining optimal blood pressure levels.



What is a healthy cholesterol level?


Cholesterol management is a cornerstone of heart health, particularly in the second half of life. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, sometimes called “bad cholesterol”, can contribute to arterial plaque buildup, increasing the risk of heart disease. Conversely, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, sometimes called “good cholesterol”, helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.



For those 50 and older, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is paramount. You should have regular cholesterol screenings every four to six years to help assess LDL, HDL and total cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends total cholesterol levels should be below 200 mg/dL, with LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dL and HDL cholesterol above 40 mg/dL.


Lifestyle modifications, including adopting a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can contribute to cholesterol management. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to help control cholesterol levels.


Related content: 10 things you should know about heart disease 


What is a normal range for blood sugar levels?


The risk of developing diabetes increases with age. Elevated blood sugar can contribute to inflammation and damage to blood vessels that can increase your risk of heart disease.



Regular monitoring of fasting blood sugar levels is essential for people aged 50 and older. Blood sugar levels are usually tested during annual checkups with your primary care provider. Ask your doctor if you need to check your levels more than once a year or purchase a glucose monitor for home testing. 


Aiming for levels below 100 mg/dL helps reduce the risk of diabetes-related cardiovascular complications. Lifestyle choices, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and weight management, are vital for controlling blood sugar levels and promoting overall heart health.



How to calculate your body mass index and waist circumference.


Maintaining a healthy weight is a cornerstone of heart health. Both waist circumference and Body Mass Index (BMI) are valuable indicators of weight-related health risks. As you age, the distribution of body fat can change. Typically, after age 30, both men and women begin to experience a loss of lean muscle mass and bone density and an increase in abdominal and trunk fat, along with a decrease in fat around the limbs. Abdominal fat or visceral fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These changes are attributed to genetics, slowed metabolism, hormonal imbalances and lifestyle choices.


For individuals 50 and older, maintaining a waist circumference below 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. In general, for both men and women, aim for a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. But, speak with your doctor to determine a healthy BMI for you. You can calculate BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms or pounds by the square of your height in meters or feet. 



Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can positively impact heart health.


The bottom line: Knowing your numbers for heart health is a proactive and empowering strategy for living the best life possible. Regularly monitoring your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, waist circumference and BMI, along with healthy lifestyle habits, can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. As you embrace the second half of life, prioritizing heart health through informed choices and regular checkups with healthcare professionals can pave the way for a healthier, more fulfilling future.