September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and the CDC estimates that 102 million adult Americans have cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL – levels beyond what’s considered healthy.
Your body produces the cholesterol it needs to function, but cholesterol is also found in many foods. Building up too much of this waxy, fat-like substance can narrow your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.
As you probably know, all it takes is a simple blood test to check your cholesterol. Healthy levels are considered as an LDL (“bad” cholesterol) of less than 110 mg/dL and an HDL (“good” cholesterol) of 35 mg/dL or higher. Together, the total should be less than 170.
LDL contributes to plaque that can clog arteries, hence why it’s called “bad.” HDL helps remove LDL from the arteries, giving it its “good” moniker.
Your doctor will advise you on how often to get your cholesterol checked based on your age, past results and risk factors, but the minimum recommendations for adults is every five years.
If you find yourself with high cholesterol, here are some things you can do to help lower it back down to healthy levels. Develop a plan with your doctor.
- Diet: A low-fat diet that’s high in fiber, featuring fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains can help lower your cholesterol. EverydayHealth.com offers “11 Power Foods for Lower Cholesterol,” including oats and barley, beans and legumes, unsaturated oils, nuts, soy, cocoa, and other fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise: The CDC recommendations for older adults include aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities, such as two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week combined with two or more days a week of muscle-strengthening targeting major muscle groups. Check with your doctor before beginning a workout program to make sure it’s right for you.
- Risk factors: The CDC also recommends you maintain a healthy weight and refrain from smoking as part of your lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol.
- Medications: If a low-fat diet and exercise alone are not enough to lower your cholesterol, your doctor may recommend prescription
The good news is that many of the lifestyle recommendations for lowering your cholesterol, including diet and exercise, can have positive impacts on other aspects of your health.
Grab a friend or family member, munch down a healthy snack, and head outside to enjoy the beautiful fall colors. You just might be lowering your cholesterol in the process!
American Heart Association’s cholesterol page – Heart.org
The Effects of High Cholesterol on the Body – Healthline.com
Low-Cholesterol Recipes – FoodNetwork.com