02 Sep 5 Lifestyle Changes to Lower Your Risk of High Cholesterol
September is National Cholesterol Education Month and as a health care provider, I’m passionate about sharing the importance of this message with you. With over 102 million American adults suffering from high cholesterol (a third of which have a high risk of heart disease), cholesterol is a big health concern in our country.
But what exactly is cholesterol? It’s a waxy, fat-like substance that your body naturally produces to help your body function properly. The problem comes when you have too much cholesterol as it can build up in your arteries, putting you at risk of heart disease and stroke.
Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to notice any symptoms if you have high cholesterol, meaning it often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late. A simple blood test by your doctor will be able to check your cholesterol levels and offer you advice as to whether you can make some small lifestyle changes or if your condition requires medication.
But don’t just think cholesterol affects adults! In the US, more than one-fifth of young people aged 12 to 19 years old have an abnormal level of cholesterol. It’s strongly encouraged that children over 2 have their cholesterol levels checked, particularly if there’s a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic conditions.
What can you do to avoid high cholesterol?
- Eat heart-healthy foods Ensure your diet includes lots of low-fat and high fiber whole foods like fruit, vegetables and grains as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and nuts. You’ll want to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt) and have added sugars, so check the nutritional information on any pre-packaged foods.
- Exercise more It’s recommended that you exercise for at least 30 minutes five days per week. This might include a brisk walk, a session at the gym, a casual basketball game with friends or even a dance class. You’re also encouraged to make physical activity part of each day by choosing to take the stairs, parking a little farther away from the office, walking instead of driving or going for a walk around the block on your lunch break.
- Maintain a healthy weight Excess body fat affects how your body uses cholesterol. You’d be surprised how quickly a couple of small changes to your lifestyle adds up. Start by reducing the number of sugary beverages you drink and the amount of fatty packaged foods you eat. If you’re unsure of what a healthy weight looks like for your body type, speak to your doctor.
- Quit smoking Smoking damages your blood vessels and speeds up the hardening of your arteries. Within just a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker. If you’re struggling to quit, speak to your doctor about creating a plan.
- Drink alcohol in moderation Try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink because too much alcohol can raise your cholesterol levels and triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). It’s recommended that men should have no more than two drinks per day and women should have no more than one.
As the leading cause of death in the United States, I urge you to book an appointment with your doctor to check to make sure that your cholesterol levels are normal.