The numbers don’t lie: According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, medical costs for 2009 will increase by almost 10 percent, significantly outpacing the current rate of inflation. In response to these skyrocketing costs, the Institute also reports on the increasing popularity of workplace wellness programs, which not only lower insurance costs but boost productivity and improve morale. Here is some vital information that you and your employees need to know about staying healthy and keeping healthcare expenses down.

More and more, we have come to accept the fact that good health is largely a matter of individual responsibility. An important step toward fulfilling that responsibility is to monitor those numbers that are essential for maintaining good health. With that in mind, do you know the significance of the following numbers to your health:

  • 120/80?
  • 30?
  • 2400?
  • 8?
  • 40 and 35?

Knowing what these figures mean and taking the necessary steps to get those numbers within a healthy range are essential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, a leading cause of death.

Perhaps the most important numbers of all are those that make up the ratio 120/80; according to the American Heart Association, the optimal blood pressure for adults should be below 120/80. Blood pressure, the measure of the force of the blood through the artery walls when the heart is pumping and relaxing, may be thought of as a water balloon. The water in the balloon creates pressure inside the balloon walls. At a certain point, the water compromises the integrity of the wall, and the balloon bursts. Sustained high blood pressure, known as hypertension, is a known risk factor for heart attack and stroke. That’s why individuals should monitor their blood pressure and make sure it stays under the 120/80 limit.

“30” is the minimum number of minutes of daily exercise that experts recommend for maintaining cardiovascular health, with more recent studies suggesting that 60 minutes of brisk exercise on most days of the week is optimal. Remember, though, that some exercise is always better than no exercise, so don’t get discouraged if you find that you can’t reach the 60-minute threshold. And if you have difficulty squeezing in a 30-minute block of exercise into your busy schedule, get your exercise in 3 10-minute sessions, making sure to work at a brisk pace each time.

Because salt intake is a risk factor for high blood pressure, medical professionals recommend that an individual’s daily salt intake not exceed 2400 milligrams. “Salt” goes by many different names, so be sure to read carefully the lists of ingredients on the foods you eat (particularly processed foods) to check for salt’s many “aliases”: sodium chloride; sodium caseinate; halite; monosodium glutamate; trisodium phosphate; sodium ascorbate; sodium bicarbonate; sodium stearoyl lactylate; and other sodium-containing ingredients. Try to stay below that figure of 2400 milligrams per day.

Are you getting 8 hours of sleep every night, the number that has long been considered optimal for the body to sufficiently rest? The right amount of sleep each night allows the body to repair and rebuild muscle, including the body’s most important muscle – the heart. Tips for getting a good night’s sleep include the following:

  • Avoid caffeine three hours prior to bedtime.
  • Keep your room at a comfortable temperature.
  • Use room-darkening shades that keep out excess light.
  • Stick to a ritual of going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Keep a pencil and paper at your bedside to make lists of those “busy” items that can run through your head at night and keep you awake.
  • Choose healthy foods, such as milk, apples, and peanut butter, as bedtime snacks.

A simple tape measure is not just an essential tool for tailors and dressmakers; men and women should keep one handy to measure their waist lines. Recent studies suggest that the circumference of a man’s waist should be below 40 inches, a woman’s below 35 inches, to lower the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. To accurately determine your waist size, place the tape measure directly over your belly button – and don’t pull it too tightly to get a lower number!

Keeping track of these numbers that are essential for good health should be on every individual’s “to do” list. To the extent that good choices can make a difference in improving health, doing what we can to keep our numbers within the normal range may increase the quality of our lives and spare us the physical, emotional, and financial costs of getting sick.

® 2008, Summit Health. Reprinted with permission.