More than 102 million American adults have high cholesterol and are possibly unaware of it. February is National Heart Month, and programs are put in place to increase awareness about how to keep their hearts healthy and free from heart disease.
An important first step in determining if you are at risk for developing heart disease is to get screened for high cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body, as well as many foods. It produces certain hormones, vitamin D, and other substances that help us digest foods. Cholesterol itself isn’t bad, but excess cholesterol can form plaque in the body’s arteries, making it harder for blood to flow to the heart.
Your cholesterol levels are determined by the following:
- Level of exercise
- Family history
How Do You Know If You Have High Cholesterol?
People with high cholesterol usually don’t have any noticeable symptoms, so it’s very important to get tested. Your doctor can do a simple blood test, called a lipoprotein profile, which can check your cholesterol levels, including:
- LDL, or “bad” cholesterol
- HDL, or “good” cholesterol
- Triglycerides, or a variation of “bad” cholesterol
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone 20 years and older get their cholesterol tested every five years. If you’re diagnosed with high cholesterol, you are at risk for:
- Atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
Therefore, it should be a top priority to lower your cholesterol.
What You Can Do to Lower Your Cholesterol
High cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes and diet. About 80 percent of heart attacks in the United States in a typical year could have been prevented by diet and lifestyle changes, according to the American Heart Association.
Your health care provider may prescribe medications to treat your high cholesterol. In addition, you will have to make some changes in your daily routine. Discuss the following recommendations with your physician or other health care provider:
- Get moving. Start out slow by incorporating small physical activities into your daily routine. For example, instead of riding the elevator, take the stairs. Work your way up to getting at least 30-40 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 3-4 times per week.
- Eat better. Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and processed foods. Choose extra-lean ground beef and poultry and fish without the skin, and drink skim milk rather than whole.
- Eat more fiber. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are good sources of fiber. Focus on soluble fibers including beans, oats and barley.
- Eat more nuts. Research suggests that regular consumption of nuts, such as walnuts and almonds can result in modest cholesterol reductions.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking lowers good cholesterol levels, and is a major risk factor for heart disease.