A simple tape measure, a blood pressure cuff and a pin prick are all capable of providing information that could potentially save your life. Studies show that your waist size, blood pressure reading and blood sugar levels can be significant indicators of your risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious health problems.

Waist Size: For many years medical professionals viewed a person's weight and BMI (body mass index) as key factors in accessing a person's risk for heart disease and other illnesses. But recent medical studies, including one from Harvard Medical School, say that waist size is a far more reliable indicator. Many researchers contend that the BMI measurement is not totally reliable because it does distinguish fat from muscle. For example, an athlete who works out regularly may develop muscles that cause him to weigh more but don't put him at higher risk for heart disease or stroke.

New research supports the theory that it is not so much what you weigh as where you carry your weight that is important. The theory is that belly fat can be a sign of visceral fat, which is the kind that gathers around the organs in the abdomen and contributes to insulin resistance and elevates "bad" cholesterol. Studies suggest that health risks start to climb when a woman's waist size reaches 31.5 inches and the risks increase significantly if her waist is 35 or more inches. Men with a waist size of 37 inches have an increased risk of heart disease and men with waist measurements greater than 40 inches are considered to be at much higher risk.

A waist-to-height ratio measure could be a reliable indicator of risk and researchers believe that your waist measurement should be less than half your height.

Blood Pressure: Hypertension is the leading cause of stroke and a major cause of heart attacks. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute more than 30% of adults in this country have high blood pressure. Although numbers will vary from person to person, a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered to be high blood pressure. People with blood pressure readings of 200/130 or higher need to seek immediate medical help. Those with readings slightly higher than 120/80 have "pre-hypertension" which means they have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure at some point in their lives.

Because it usually has no major symptoms, high blood pressure is often referred to as the "silent killer." That is why it is a good idea to have your blood pressure checked frequently. Fortunately, free blood pressure checks are readily available in most areas through health fairs and community centers. If your blood pressure reading is high you should talk to your health care professional about measures you can take to lower it. Risk factors for high blood pressure include family history, obesity, advancing age, smoking, poor dietary habits, and taking certain medications.

Blood Sugar: According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million people in this country have diabetes and 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year. Several million more people have a condition called "prediabetes" which means their blood sugar levels are higher than normal, putting them at higher risk for developing the disease.

Normal blood sugar levels for adults are between 70 and 150 mg/dL. Blood sugar levels are measured through a blood glucose test which measures the levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Simple versions of the test are available free at many community health screenings, however the test is far more reliable if it performed after an eight-hour fast.

If your blood sugar levels are high you should talk to your health care professional to develop a treatment plan. If left untreated diabetes can lead to complications such as stroke, heart attack, kidney failure or diabetic coma.

Although there are some factors, such as genetics that are beyond our control, there are steps you can take to prevent or mitigate the health hazards associated with visceral fat, hypertension and diabetes. Waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar can all be positively affected by a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition and exercise. Talk to your holistic practitioner to develop a "stay-well" plan that keeps you healthy and vibrant.