What Is Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance. It doesn’t sound like something you would want in your body, but you do need some. It plays a role in the production of many things your body needs, which I’ll cover later. The problem lies in having too much of the bad fatty substance that can lead to clogged arteries cutting off blood flow throughout your body, but especially to your brain. This can be a particular problem for elderly people who are often less active but still have the same basic health requirements as the rest of us. Lets take a quick look at why controlling your cholesterol and minimising its negative effects is so important, particularly if you are older.
Good or Bad Cholesterol?
First of all, you have good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Your objective is to raise the good and lower the bad. First, though, you need to understand what the numbers mean.
Cholesterol is measured in 4 ways; total cholesterol, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, triglycerides. When the doctor does a blood test and sends you the results, it will be a measure of the numbers above. Here’s a breakdown of what those numbers indicate.
Total cholesterol measures the amounts of LDL and HDL levels in the blood. It’s a count of the overall amounts of cholesterol–good and bad.
LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein is bad cholesterol. It should be less than 100mg/dL (100 milligrams per deciliter). Anything above 129 is cause for concern.
HDL or High Density Lipoprotein is good cholesterol. It should be 60 mg/dL or higher. Between 40-59 is decent. Below 40 is bad. If your numbers are lower than 40, you definitely need to take measures to improve them.
Triglycerides are another form of fat in the blood that can raise the risk of heart disease. The numbers for triglycerides are as follows:
- Normal — Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Borderline high — 150 to 199 mg/dL
- High — 200 to 499 mg/dL
- Very high — 500 mg/dL or above
Triglycerides store unused calories in fat cells. This is so you have an energy reserve between meals that your body can use. The problem lies in having a high level of triglycerides and never using them up as energy. This can lead to gaining fat.
High triglyceride levels may also be a sign of other conditions, such as uncontrolled diabetes and problems with the thyroid.
What Affects Cholesterol Levels?
Diet – This is really simple but an area that most people simply ignore. A poor diet leads to bad cholesterol (and bad health.) A healthy diet leads to good cholesterol (and good health.)
Weight – Being overweight is hazardous to your health in numerous ways. If cholesterol is already starting to clog your arteries, it’s time to get serious about losing weight.
Physical Activity – This is another area that should be simple, but is often ignored. A sedentary life is bad. An active is good. This is true of all health related issues.
Age and Gender – Women tend to get higher levels of LDL after menopause, so if you’re a woman and nearing that age, be sure to keep an eye on your numbers. Men are at risk at an earlier age because, in general men have poorer dietary habits than women.
Heredity – Your family history does have an affect on your cholesterol levels. If your family is prone to high levels of cholesterol, you definitely want to take precautions to keep your numbers good, especially at an early age.
Lifestyle Habits or Changes to Lower Cholesterol
TLC diet – basically a good eating plan—lots of fruit and veggies, low saturated fat intake, fish, and lean meats like chicken. You should also consume fewer dairy products.
Weight management – Lose weight. Change your eating habits and start adding physical activity to your daily regimen.
Physical Activity – Get moving. Go for a walk. Do something for half an hour a day other than sitting around. Any movement is good, but if you can get your heart rate up, even if it’s just a little bit, it will do you good.
Drug Treatments – While there are medications to help lower cholesterol, it’s best if you can do so naturally through diet and exercise. Try to take medications only as a last resort, unless you are in an extremely unhealthy range with your numbers and you need it lowered fast.
Consider niacin supplements. Niacin is one of the B vitamins (B3). It is shown to reduce bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol and lower triglycerides. It’s probably not a miracle cure, but upping your levels can help with your overall health plan to lower your cholesterol.
The Risk Factors
Below are the risk factors and some ways you can start to improve your cholesterol levels.
- High Blood Pressure
- Low HDL Cholesterol
- Family History
Improve Your Diet and Physical Activity Levels
Like any other health problem, a good diet and plenty of physical movement can go a long way to improving your overall health. This is especially true for your levels of cholesterol. Below is a list of foods you should consume less of, followed by a list of foods you should consume more of.
Foods to avoid:
- Cream cheese
- Ice cream
- Egg yolks
- Fast food
- Organ meats
- Processed foods and processed carbs
Foods to eat more of:
- Fish and omega 3s
- Walnuts and almonds
- Olive oil
- Good fats
- Salads and leafy green vegetables
Good heart health is cumulative. If you start at an early age you will have better health throughout your life, especially if you keep it up.
However, if you’re older, you can always work towards reversing any heart or health issues. Cholesterol levels are one of the areas you can lower and improve your heart health even if you’re an older adult.
As we age, many of us get less active and take on office jobs where we sit most of the day. Even after we get home, too many of us flop in front of the television with a quick fast food meal or snack foods. We don’t get out and walk around the neighborhood or even get out on weekends and enjoy something physical.
Try to plan your meals better and get more active. This is the best thing you can do to ward off other health problems as well.