illustration of medical team and patients looking at large chart of medical statistics and numbers

What You Should Know About Target Health Numbers

At a typical checkup, your doctor probably will discuss your “target numbers”: blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI). These measurements are considered key markers of health. People with ideal numbers in these categories are less likely to develop health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

But does living with a neuromuscular disease affect those target number? Here’s what you need to know about these common measures of general health.

What it is Health risks Ideal numbers
Blood pressure Measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart beats and rests. It’s expressed using a top number (systolic) over a bottom number (diastolic). Learn more here. Consistently high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Less than 120/80 mmHg
Blood sugar Measures how effectively your body uses insulin, a hormone that converts food into energy. Learn more here. Untreated diabetes can cause problems with the heart, kidneys, limbs, nerves, and eyes. Up to 99 mg/dL
Cholesterol Measures how much cholesterol is in your blood. Cholesterol is a type of fat made by the body as well as eaten. Learn more here. Higher cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease and stroke. Total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL
BMI Calculated from your height and weight. It is a simple way to estimate body fat, but it is known to have some limitations. Find your BMI here. Carrying excess weight is a risk factor for high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. Between 18.5-24.9

Aim for target numbers

According to healthcare providers who are familiar with neuromuscular diseases, healthy target numbers are the same for everyone. The best way to maintain or reach those targets is to eat a balanced, healthy diet and get regular exercise.

Headshot of Dr. Robert Friedman, a white man with short brown and white hair and beard, wearing glasses/

Robert Friedman, MD

Robert Friedman, MD, an MDA Care Center director and owner of Idaho Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, explains that mobility does not make a difference in terms of what your healthy target numbers are, but it might change your nutrition and exercise goals. “Those who are nonambulatory [unable to walk] need to emphasize minimizing losing muscle mass and maintaining strength and mobility,” he says.

Early awareness is key. “Begin healthy habits in childhood, because maintaining health in those parameters will be a lifetime activity,” Dr. Friedman says. “With better understanding and better therapies for neuromuscular diseases, we should all be planning for long life expectancies.”

When a neuromuscular disease makes a difference

People with certain diagnoses are at higher risk for developing some additional medical conditions. For example, Friedrich’s ataxia (FA) is linked to diabetes, while myotonic dystrophy (DM) is associated with heart rhythm problems (cardiac arrythmia). Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD), Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy (EDMD), and limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD) are linked to a heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

Having secondary health risks makes sticking to target numbers even more important for people with these conditions. It also makes it important to see healthcare providers who are well-versed in neuromuscular diseases, such as the multidisciplinary care teams at MDA Care Centers. Doctors with that knowledge will be more likely to watch out for these health issues and catch them early.

Headshot of Dr. Amit Sachdev, a man with light brown skin and short black hair, wearing glasses

Amit Sachdev, MD

Amit Sachdev, MD, director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University and associate chief medical officer for MSU Health Care, explains that a neuromuscular disease must be taken into consideration when recommending treatment for a secondary health problem.

“When target numbers are not met, some patients with neuromuscular diseases might go on medications sooner and which medications are chosen might be different,” he says. For example, ACE inhibitors — drugs used to manage high blood pressure — can also have heart benefits in people with certain conditions. For those with high blood pressure and a neuromuscular disease, doctors might prescribe ACE inhibitors rather than other blood pressure medicines.

While cultivating healthy habits to reach your target numbers, don’t forget the mind-body connection. “Plan for the long run,” Dr. Sachdev says. “A positive mindset is associated with a healthier body.”

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Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.