Close this search box.

Health Numbers That Actually Matter (and a Few That Don’t)

When it comes to diet and exercise, there are a lot of recommendations to sort through. Every few months, it seems like there’s a new diet, exercise routine or superfood to try. What foods to eat, what foods to avoid and what type of exercise you should be getting can suddenly seem rather complicated. Technology makes it easier than ever to track our calories, steps, hours of sleep and just about any other metric we can dream up.

So which behavior and health indicators should you be paying attention to and which ones can you ignore? According to a panel of dieticians, here are the numbers you should be paying attention to:

50 Percent

As in half your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits at meal time. Devote another quarter to a lean protein and the last portion to whole grains. With this combination of foods, chances are you’re getting a good mix of key nutrients and other vitamins without going overboard on calories. For example, you’d be likely to get the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber each day (most adults only get about 16). You can read more about this simple plate-based approach at

7-8 Hours

That’s the recommended amount of sleep our bodies need each night to function at our best. In the short term, lack of sleep can affect judgment, mood and our ability to retain information. Over the long term, lack of sleep has been linked to increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

150 Minutes

Here’s one area where construction laborers are likely already ahead of the game. It’s recommended we get 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Research shows that increments of even 10 minutes of physical activity help prevent heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer and dementia. Consider adding some light stretching a couple times a week to increase or maintain your flexibility.

120/80 mmHg

That’s considered to be a normal blood pressure reading. Elevated blood pressure is 121-129/80 and high blood pressure is 130-139/80-89, and both conditions bring increased risk for heart attack and stroke. You can read more about maintaining a healthy blood pressure in this previous Lifelines article. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

What about the numbers that don’t matter as much? Here are four sets of numbers not to fret over:

25 > BMI

This is the line at which people are considered overweight or obese on the body mass index (BMI). However, this scale doesn’t take into account factors like body type, age or gender. While you shouldn’t ignore your BMI, it’s not the best measure of health at your disposal.

2,000 Calories

Serving sizes on nutritional labels are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but counting calories every time you eat can be time-consuming and provide an incomplete picture of your health. After all, is it healthier to eat 1,000 calories of bacon every day or 1,200 calories of fruits, vegetables and nuts? Paying attention to how many calories are in food can be helpful, but it can oversimplify the issue to focus on that number alone.

41 Years Old

The average age in construction is 41 years old, but as the popular saying goes, “age is just a number.” While it’s true that conditions like heart disease are more likely to affect us as we age, our health is based on much more than our age. The lifestyle decisions we make, such as choosing not to smokechoosing to exercise regularly and following a healthy diet, have as much to do with our health as our genetics and age.

LHSFNA Resources

The LHSFNA’s online Publications Catalogue offers several publications that can help educate LIUNA members about leading a healthy lifestyle. These include our Principles of Good Nutrition toolbox talk and our Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers: Weight & Your Health and Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers: How to Assess Your Weight pamphlets. Contact the Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465 for more information.

[Nick Fox]

Recent Lifelines