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PREVENT

Cholesterol conundrum

Your provider may recommend that you get a blood test for lipids around the age of 20 to 30, depending on your risk factors for heart disease, stroke and family history. These blood tests measure your total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. Are you asking yourself, "Uh, but what does that even mean?" Let me explain: 

Triglycerides, a type of fat, provide your body with energy. When you eat, your body converts the calories it doesn't need into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells.

Cholesterol, a fat-like substance, is necessary for good health, but high cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart disease. 

There are two kinds of cholesterol:

LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) also known as "bad" cholesterol, can build plaque in the walls of your arteries. This can reduce blood flow and increase your chance of heart attack or stroke. Lower levels of LDL are better. 

HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) is also known as "good" cholesterol. HDL takes the "bad" cholesterol out of your blood, keeping arteries open and your blood flowing more freely. Higher levels of HDL are better. 

Making healthy lifestyle changes can help to lower your bad cholesterol level (LDL): 

Eat a heart-healthy diet

  • Go fish! Eat healthy fatty fish, like salmon or trout, one or twice a week. These fish are low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Don't like fish? Walnuts, olive oil and flaxseed are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Fill up on fiber. Add more whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas, oats, barley and legumes to your diet. Most fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and high in fiber, which keeps you feeling satisfied longer and helps to curb idle snacking.
  • Reduce unhealthy fats. Trans fat found in fried foods, butter and commercially-baked goods, can increase bad cholesterol (LDL). Be smart about your consumption of saturated fats found in dairy products and red meat, which can raise your total cholesterol. 

Quit smoking
Smoking can cause your blood vessels to narrow, making it easier for cholesterol to collect in your blood vessels. Talk to your provider about creating a plan to help you stop smoking. 

Lose weight
If you are overweight, talk to your provider about starting a weight loss program. Losing excess weight can lower your levels of triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol. Shedding even a few pounds can make a difference!

Get moving
Increasing physical activity is important to prevent heart disease and stroke, and can do wonders for your mental health, too! Adding 30 minutes, five times a week can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Spend your lunch break briskly walking with a coworker or go for a family bike ride after dinner.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

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