Tracking a few simple numbers can be a big help in keeping tabs on heart health.

But you need to pay attention to those numbers long before your doctor says they're an urgent concern, said Nicole Spartano, a research assistant professor in the department of endocrinology, diabetes, nutrition and weight management at Boston University School of Medicine.

She likened it to watching warning signs on a highway: Paying attention now alerts you to problems that might appear down the road.

"Just because you haven't reached whatever threshold is there for the diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean you're in the clear in terms of whatever physiological measure you're tracking," she said.

Blood pressure is particularly crucial, said Dr. Raymond R. Townsend, professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

"There is nothing more important to living longer, and living with a functioning heart and brain, than attending to an elevated blood pressure," he said. "You need to be sure of what your BP numbers are because if you don't measure it, you cannot manage it."

A health care provider can tell you specific targets. But in general, here are some important ones to track:

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