We’ve all heard the potential dangers of cholesterol, but what is it and how can we help manage it?
As HealthFinder.gov explains, cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found naturally in your blood and helps your body do important things, such as make hormones and digest fatty foods. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL, considered good, and LDL, considered bad. However, if cholesterol builds up too much in your blood vessels, it could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Common causes of high cholesterol include an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, among other things.
The good news is that it’s easy to get your cholesterol levels tested, and you can take steps to help improve them to stay healthier. HealthFinder.gov offers the following suggestions:
Get Checked Regularly
Most people who have high cholesterol don’t have any signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get your cholesterol checked. Call your doctor’s office or health center to schedule a full lipid profile, a simple blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat) in your blood. Find out what instructions you’ll need to follow before the test. You’ll probably have to fast (not eat or drink anything except water) for 9 to 12 hours ahead of time.
It’s generally recommended to get your cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people may need to get tested more or less often depending on their risk for developing heart disease. For example, if high cholesterol runs in your family, you might need to get checked more often. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
Eat Heart-Healthy Foods
Making some healthy lifestyle changes, such as to your diet, can help improve your cholesterol levels. Try to do the following:
- Eat less saturated fat, which comes from animal products (like cheese, fatty meats and dairy desserts) and tropical oils (like palm, palm kernel and coconut oil). Use healthy oils (like olive, peanut or canola oil) instead.
- Choose foods with healthy fat, such as olives, avocados, nuts and fish. Stay away from trans fats, which may be in foods like stick margarines, coffee creamers and some desserts.
- Limit foods that are high in cholesterol, including fatty meats and organ meat (like liver and kidney).
- Limit foods that are high in sodium (salt) or added sugar.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Eat more foods that are high in fiber, like oatmeal, oat bran, beans and lentils.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
Getting active can help you lose weight and improve your cholesterol. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate activity, such as walking fast, biking slowly, doing some light gardening and lifting light weights. Or, you can aim for 1 hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous activity, such as jogging or running, swimming, and aerobics.
Quitting smoking will help improve your cholesterol. If you smoke, make a plan to quit today. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Before making any diet or exercise changes–and for more information or help controlling cholesterol, including possible medications–consult your doctor.
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