High cholesterol is a signal that you are at risk for heart disease and unfortunately, almost half of all women have borderline-high total cholesterol levels. But there are simple steps that can control cholesterol levels and allow women to live a healthy life. Even if you don’t have high cholesterol, it’s important to understand what it is and how to protect yourself and your family. It’s not as complicated as you think!
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a lipid, or fatlike substance, that travels through your blood and helps to form cell membranes and some hormones. The cholesterol that you need is produced naturally by your body. The problem starts when there is too much cholesterol in your body. This may come from food you eat, like meat or dairy products, that is rich in cholesterol. Or it is also possible that your body produces excess amounts of cholesterol or is unable to control cholesterol naturally. If you have too much cholesterol, it can stick to the walls of your arteries, keeping your blood from flowing freely. When this happens, the buildup is called plaque, and it can be a dangerous problem.
All cholesterol isn’t created equal!
Your total cholesterol is made up of three types of cholesterol – some good and some bad.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol. It helps prevent cholesterol from building up in your arteries (Ideal:60 mg/dL or greater).
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is bad cholesterol. Too much of it leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries (Ideal:Below 100 mg/dL).
- Triglycerides are a type of fat that circulates in your blood but is stored as body fat (Ideal:Below 150 mg/dL).
You can find out your cholesterol levels with a simple blood test. You should aim for a low total cholesterol number, a high LDL, a low LDL, and low triglycerides; our Know Your Numbers chart provides specific guidelines.
Lowering your levels
Once your cholesterol has been tested and you know your numbers, you’ll know how cholesterol is affecting your personal heart health. If cholesterol is negatively affecting your heart, don’t panic. These common-sense strategies can help:
- Get screened. There are no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol, but you can find out your numbers with a simple blood test. Getting screened is the first step to controlling your cholesterol!
- Build your support system. It’s easier to make healthy changes when you can count on the support of the people in your life. Ask your friends and family for help as you work toward the goal of heart health. You can also visit the Sister to Sister Community to find other women on the same journey.
- Choose heart healthy foods. Making better food choices, like cutting back on your saturated and trans-fats, is the best step you can take to lower your cholesterol. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains will reduce your trans-fats intake. Learn how to pick out the best foods for your heart.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can raise triglyceride levels, lead to high blood pressure, and damage the liver and heart muscle.
- Quit Smoking. Smoking has been shown to lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also lowers your tolerance for physical activity, so it’s harder to get the activity you need to help you reach healthy cholesterol levels.
- Lighten up. Extra weight increases your LDL (bad) cholesterol level. Losing even small amounts of weight loss can make a big difference to your cholesterol. Sister to Sister has plenty of tips that can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Get moving. An inactive lifestyle tends to raise your cholesterol. Engaging in some type of physical activity on most days can lower your cholesterol levels. And don’t worry, you don’t have to start out running marathons – there are plenty of easy ways to get active.
- Relax. Many habits that are associated with stress, such as eating too much and not exercising enough, can raise your cholesterol. Reducing your stress can also reduce your cholesterol levels.
- Manage your medications. If you take medications, including over-the-counter drugs, be sure to take them as directed.
Remember, you don’t have to take all these steps at once! Adopting even a few can make a big difference.
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