Your health by the numbers: What to watch for



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January is a fresh start— a new year with new goals. And, for a lot of people, January is a time to assess health and make any necessary lifestyle changes to improve it.

We sat down with Dr. Steven Webster, a primary care physician at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello. Webster shared some of the numbers that matter for your health goals. Although he stresses that the numbers don’t always tell the whole story and can be an imperfect way to measure overall health, he says that, in general, there are some good guidelines to follow for those who are trying to optimize their health.


Weight and body mass index, or BMI, are important numbers to watch because they can affect overall health in other areas, Webster says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of their height. The CDC provides a handy calculator to easily find BMI, and some new bathroom and gym scales are able to measure it too, Webster says.

“Between 18 and 25 is a typically healthy BMI range, and that’s where we want to be,” Webster says, noting that there are outliers for whom the typical calculations don’t apply.

“You can be perfectly fit, very muscular, have a low body fat percentage and have a high BMI, and in theory, it says you’re overweight or you’re obese,” Webster says. “There are those outliers.”

But for people who aren’t intense bodybuilders, Webster says the 18 to 25 BMI range is a good, healthy goal.

“Overall, the emphasis should, for sure, be on our health, rather than just a number,” he says. “But that number is easy to set goals by and to reach, and for the majority of us, setting a goal of getting in a range of less than 25 BMI is a good, obtainable goal.”

Webster says doctors can help with weight-related health goals, but those who need extra help should seek guidance from professionals specifically trained in nutrition.

“Doctors, we talk about weight all day, every day,” he says. “But we are definitely not dieticians or nutritionists. … We can get people to help if we don’t know those answers.”

Webster says medications are available to help a person get to a healthy weight range, but his advice is first to focus on a “good, old-fashioned diet and exercise.”

If weight loss is the goal, Webster encourages his patients to find what works for them, diet- and exercise-wise. He says a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats, is a go-to recommendation from physicians, but ultimately, weight loss is about “calories in, calories out.”

“Look at the calories,” he says. “Be mindful that, if I eat pizza, which may not be the best choice, that I have to only eat one piece, and if I’m going to eat pizza, then I’ve got to eat salad, and maybe I should drink water.”

For those who prefer not to track their calories, Webster says intermittent fasting can be a useful tool.

“If we’re intermittent fasting, we’re cutting out calories and we can eat what we want when we’re not fasting,” he says.

Webster says exercise is important too.

“Activity plays a massive role as well, but I think that’s more for our overall well-being and our mental health,” he says.

Webster encourages people to find physical activities they enjoy. If a person doesn’t like running for exercise, they should find something else that will keep them motivated to stay active.

“Walking, light jogging, swimming, biking — anything they’re interested in, getting their heart rate up.”

Webster says half an hour per day of moderate-intensity exercise, five days per week, is good for maintaining good cardiac health, but that if weight loss is the goal, adding an additional half-hour of exercise each day will help.


An adult’s cholesterol should be checked at yearly intervals, Webster says. Cholesterol numbers can predict health problems that can be managed more effectively if cholesterol is being monitored. The goal is for total cholesterol to be under 200, he says.

According to Cleveland Clinictotal cholesterol is calculated by adding the levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and “good” cholesterol (HDL), plus 20% of the level of triglycerides in the blood.

Ideally, LDL should be below 100 and even lower if a person’s family has a history of cardiovascular diseases like heart disease or stroke.

Once again, diet and exercise play a key role in those numbers.

“If you’re trying to be active and eat better, you’ll see this number dramatically decrease,” Webster says.

HDL should be above 40 in males and above 50 in females, he says.

“The best way to raise that is activity,” Webster says.

Webster says it’s important to understand that cholesterol is good and necessary in the body, but proper ratios of LDL to HDL are important.

Blood pressure

Blood pressure is something that can be monitored at home, and Webster suggests that every home should have a monitor.

“Every household should have an arm cuff in their home, whether they have blood pressure issues or not, because it can answer a lot of questions,” he says. “The wrist ones are better than nothing, but, personally, I feel like the ones on the arm are more accurate.”

Webster says, ideally, blood pressure should be about 120/80 mmHg or less, preferably without medications, and that if someone has had a heart attack, he suggests using medication to keep it even lower.

One reason for people to have a monitor at home, Webster says, is to get a more accurate reading due to “white coat hypertension,” or elevated blood pressure that is a result of nervousness from being at the doctor’s office.

“Our body responds to our external stimuli, so if someone is noticing that their pressures are always high, then they need to be checking more often (at home),” he says.

Blood sugar

Blood sugar numbers are not typically something non-diabetics need to monitor frequently, but those levels should be checked at a person’s yearly checkups, or more often if concerns arise. Webster says a typical healthy range is about 80 to 100 milligrams per deciliter.

“It is normal, every time after you eat, for your sugars to spike a little bit and then to normalize,” Webster says. “When they’re spiking high, that’s when we’re kind of concerned about prediabetes and diabetes, and that’s when we need to likely make an intervention.”

Again, Webster says the first intervention should always be improved diet and exercise.

“Everyone thinks physicians are out there to maybe just push pills or push medications,” he says. “But we’re really there to prevent the problems. So, the first thing is diet and exercise.”

Although blood sugar is an important component of good health, Webster says most people don’t need to track it closely.

“If you’re generally healthy and non-diabetic, I would say that you don’t have to emphasize blood sugar,” he says.

However, he says, a family history of diabetes and other health issues warrants paying closer attention.

“Some people have more disposition to be type 2 diabetics, so family history is important to look at,” Webster says. “Family history is huge. If your family has a strong history of diabetes or heart disease or cholesterol problems or blood pressure issues, then you should be extra cautious about these things and definitely be watching your weight and your activity levels.”

Webster emphasizes that everyone should be seeing their primary care physician at least yearly or more often anything feels off.

“The numbers may be perfect, but (if) something feels off, those are the times you may need to seek a physician and get some tests,” he says.

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