September is National Cholesterol Education Month. If you haven't had a cholesterol test recently, or ever, now is a great time to make an appointment and learn about why and how to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. High cholesterol can affect you at any age! Adults, adolescents and even children can have high levels of cholesterol, but taking the right steps to maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that occurs naturally in the body and is found in food. Cholesterol is critical to some bodily functions, like creating and repairing cell walls or producing certain hormones, but only a small amount of cholesterol is needed from food consumption to maintain healthy levels. Your liver creates some of the cholesterol your body needs. Eating too much cholesterol from foods such as meat, whole milk dairy products, and egg yolks can cause cholesterol to rise to unhealthy levels. High cholesterol and high triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood, put you at elevated risk for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US.
However, not all cholesterol is bad for your body. LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol linked with atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of fatty, cholesterol-rich deposits in the arteries. A diet high in saturated and trans fats contributes to high LDL cholesterol. Higher levels of "good" HDL cholesterol help prevent heart attacks and strokes by removing cholesterol from the arteries and sending it back to the liver. Smoking, being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to low HDL cholesterol. Family history, age and gender also contribute to your risk of bad cholesterol levels.
Especially at a younger age, high cholesterol may have no symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults 20 and over take a cholesterol test every five years. An adult already being treated for high cholesterol may need to be tested more often. A balance of low LDL and high HDL cholesterol is the optimum level for a healthy heart and body. Your overall cholesterol levels are calculated in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) using a simple blood test. The test measures LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as part of your triglyceride levels, to determine your overall score.
Healthy scores vary per person. Your doctor can tell you more about what your individual scores mean, as well as help you assess other risk factors based on your weight, age and lifestyle. A doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes and even medicine if you need help lowering cholesterol.
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While some risk factors for high cholesterol are out of your control, there are many factors under your control that will help prevent high cholesterol.
Maintain a healthy weight: Keeping a healthy weight or losing weight if you are overweight will help lower LDL cholesterol and is especially important for those with many risk factors. This will help your overall health beyond your cholesterol levels.
Eat healthy: A diet low in saturated and trans fats will limit your cholesterol intake from food. Avoid red meats, high-fat dairy products, egg yolks and packaged or processed foods. Consume more lean protein, such as fish, chicken or turkey, as well as healthy grains and fruits and vegetables. See our lists of 5 Foods and 5 More Foods to Lower Cholesterol.
Exercise: Work more exercise into your daily routine, such as aerobic activity and strength-training workouts. At least 30 minutes of exercise on most, if not all, days of the week will help lower cholesterol. There are endless workouts and fitness tips on Skinny Mom to help you get the most from your exercise.
Adopt these healthy habits early in life to prevent high cholesterol. It's important to get a cholesterol test at an early age and talk with your doctor about other ways to stay healthy and keep your heart and body happy!
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