A Doctor Explains: Why 75 Is the Magic Number for Healthy Arteries
Lipidologist Larry Kaskel, MD, urges his patients to use the number 75 to gauge their heart health. How do your cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose levels—and much more—stack up?
Worried about your heart health?
About 600,000 people in America die from heart disease each year—one in every four deaths, according to the CDC. If you’re concerned about your ticker, it can be tough to keep track of all the stats you’re supposed to: What’s a healthy cholesterol? Are your triglycerides too high? Are you getting enough exercise each week?
To simplify things, Larry Kaskel, MD, a lipidologist and medical director of Northwestern Wellness in Libertyville, Illinois, developed an easier way for his patients to grasp the big picture: a program he calls Strive for 75. Some of the examples that follow are geared toward people already diagnosed with heart disease; some will help healthy people with no known clogged arteries. Read on for these fresh tips to take care of your ticker.
Aim for an LDL cholesterol of 75
Heart disease’s big bad villain, LDL cholesterol, is widely misunderstood, says Dr. Kaskel. “Elevated cholesterol is not a disease, just a risk factor,” he says. “It increases your heart disease risk a little bit, and it’s only important if you have certain other risk factors, like diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, a family member who dropped dead from a heart attack at a young age, or existing heart disease.”
For people without heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol doesn’t seem to do much to prevent non-fatal heart attacks. “But people with heart disease do a little better if we lower their cholesterol,” says Dr. Kaskel, which is why he recommends heart disease patients strive for an LDL of 75 mg/dl.
Aim for a blood glucose level of 75
Traditional thinking was that diabetes—a disease that also raises your risk of heart disease—was diagnosed with a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dl or higher; prediabetes was diagnosed with a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl; and everything below 100 was normal. Now, the latest science indicates that glucose levels even in “high-normal” range can cause problems, increasing inflammation and making blood vessels stiffer. For people with heart disease, Dr. Kaskel recommends trying to get blood glucose to a very healthy 75 mg/dl.
Aim for a triglyceride level of 75
Travis Rathbone for Reader's Digest
Many people with heart disease have high fasting triglyceride levels, says the American Heart Association. Some studies have shown that people with levels at 150 mg/dl or higher are at greater risk of heart attack or stroke. While the AHA says 100 mg/dl is optimal, Dr. Kaskel says that people with heart disease would do well to aim a little lower. Triglyceride levels are often very responsive to lifestyle changes, such as cutting back carbohydrates, losing weight, and getting a little exercise most days of the week.
Aim to exercise and meditate 75 minutes a week each
The benefits of each are beyond ample. Exercise helps your arteries stay elastic, which can reduce blood pressure. It prevents insulin resistance, which staves off type 2 diabetes. It lowers levels of disease-causing inflammation. It also boosts your mood and helps you think more clearly, as does stress-relieving meditation. Lest you think 75 minutes a week sounds like a lot, it’s only 10 minutes a day for each activity, notes Dr. Kaskel—less than one percent of your day.
Aim to get vitamin G 75 minutes a week
This “vitamin” is a newer one in the world of heart health—it means exposure to natural green spaces outside or in a park. “The nice thing is that you can combine these—do a nice walking meditation through a garden and you’ve hit three activities in less than 15 minutes,” says Dr. Kaskel. A Japanese study found that people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a reduced heart rate, and lower blood pressure when they walked through a wooded area than when they spent time in an urban one.
Aim to do all of this 75 percent of the time
“I don’t expect any human being to do 100 percent of this, 100 percent of the time, because then they’re being fanatical, which can cause stress and disrupt their mental health,” says Dr. Kaskel. “In my 25 years of experience, if you do these activities and aim for these numbers, you will decrease your need for medicine and usage of health care. You can reverse a lot of chronic disease by following this 75 lifestyle.”