Cholesterol is a pearly, fat-like substance found in every cell of your body. There are several different types of cholesterol, but there are two in particular that you may be familiar with. There is good cholesterol (HDL) and there is bad cholesterol (LDL). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in total cholesterol. And, like LDL, if levels are too high they are also bad.
Although your body needs some cholesterol for functions like building cell membranes and brain tissue, too much cholesterol can be dangerous. When there's too much bad cholesterol in your blood, it can build up inside the walls of your arteries. These buildups are called plaque, and can eventually clog your arteries. This may lead to angina (chest pain), heart attack, or stroke.
WHEN IS CHOLESTEROL TOO HIGH?
To help you and your doctor determine if your cholesterol is too high, the National Cholesterol Education Program created guidelines and goals to establish the best levels of cholesterol based on certain risk factors. It is important for you to understand these because of the strong link between high cholesterol and coronary heart disease (CHD).
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:
- Family history of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- A low level of good cholesterol
- if HDL (good cholesterol) level is greater than 60 mg/dL, subtract one risk factor
KNOW YOUR LDL (bad cholesterol) GOAL
Less than 160
Without Coronary Heart Disease & fewer than 2 risk factors
Less than 130
Without Coronary Heart Disease & more than 2 risk factors
With Coronary Heart Disease
By considering risk factors, your doctor can set LDL guidelines and goals for you.
GET THE LOW DOWN ON CHOLESTEROL
You may be surprised to learn that you have high cholesterol since elevated cholesterol has no warning signs. Fortunately there are changes you can make to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for coronary heart disease.
Your healthcare professional can play an important role in helping you lower your cholesterol level so it's critical you work in close partnership with him or her. He or she will recommend that you eat a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and recommend an appropriate exercise program. Your physician also may recommend that you take medication.
CHOLESTEROL LOW DOWN #1: WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
Diet plays a critical role in managing cholesterol levels. As part of a cholesterol lowering diet, the American Heart Association recommends that you should:
- Make 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a part of your day.
- Eat sensibly by selecting a wide variety of foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Count calories. To avoid weight gain, balance the calories you eat with regular physical activity.
- Look for the American Heart Association's heart-check mark on foods that make up a heart-healthy diet.
The chart below lists foods to eat and foods to avoid.
Foods Low in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol:
- Lean cuts of red meat Chicken and turkey-roosted or baked (with skin removed)
- Fruits and vegetables-Fresh, even canned
- Whole grains, beans, pasta, breads, potatoes, hot and cold cereals, taco shells and plain tortillas
- Vegetable oils (olive, corn, canola)
- Fish, shrimp and shellfish (baked or broiled)
- Skim milk, ice milk, low-fat/ nonfat yogurt and cheeses labeled "low fat", "light" or part skim"
- Angel food cake, fig bar cookies, ginger snaps, animal crackers, jelly beans, hard candy, popsicles, frozen yogurt and sherbet
Foods High in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol:
- Fatty cuts of red meat Fried chicken
- Avocado and coconut (they're high in fat)
- Gravy, french fries, cream sauces
- Butter, shortening, mayonnaise
- Fried fish or fish in cream sauce
- Doughnuts, danish pastry and most cakes, cookies and pies
CHOLESTEROL CUTTING TIPS
- Keep your weight at an appropriate level for your height, frame and age.
- Consume a high-fiber diet, including plenty of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.
- Eat fish or vegetarian meals at least four times a week. Learn to eat less red meat.
- Read food labels carefully to find hidden fat and cholesterol. Avoid or limit products that contain cream, egg yolks, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, lard, butter and hydrogenated fat or oil.
- Avoid fat, especially saturated fat. Eat fish, chicken and turkey without the skin.
- Use any method of cooking other than frying - try baking, broiling, stewing or roasting, barbecuing, braising or poaching.
- Cook in nonstick pans and use vegetable oils rather than butter. Better yet, spray oils.
CHOLESTEROL LOW DOWN #2: LET'S GET PHYSICAL!
Exercising on a regular basis can lower your LDL-C level and raise your HDL-C level. Exercise also has been shown to reduce other factors that contribute to coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure and excess weight. Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Aerobic activities that use your arms and legs and increase your heart rate for 30 to 60 minutes or longer each day, play an important role in lowering your blood cholesterol level. Both moderate-intensity activities, such as dancing or brisk walking and vigorous activities, such as jogging, biking or swimming will benefit you.
While continuous movement that increases your heart rate is ideal, recent research has shown that three activity sessions of 10 minutes each per day are just as beneficial as one 30-minute workout. And if some days you're simply too busy to exercise, remember that even 10-15 minutes of physical activity is better than none at all.
Before starting any exercise program, be sure to check with your healthcare professional, especially if you:
- Have a history of coronary heart disease.
- Experience chest pain or dizziness when you exercise.
- Are overweight or have diabetes.
- Are over 45 years of age and have been sedentary for a long time.
FITTING FITNESS INTO YOUR LIFE
You may not exercise regularly because you think you don't have the time. But it's easier to fit exercise into your fife than you think. All you need is a little creativity and a little planning. For example, take a walking break instead of a coffee break. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to the corner store instead of driving. Take the dog for a long walk. Rake the leaves in the yard. Get off the bus one or two stops early and walk. Here are some other suggestions to get you started:
- Select activities or sports you enjoy such as walking, softball or dancing.
- Exercise during a time of day that's convenient for you.
- Avoid boredom through crosstraining. Participate in a variety of activities, like jogging, biking, walking and swimming.
Achieve your goals and 'fight the height" with an action plan. An action plan will help you monitor your progress and keep you motivated. Setting and reaching your short-term goals will contribute to feelings of success. Achieving longer-term goals will show you how easily fitness can become a regular, natural part of your life.