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- Family Medicine
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Did you know that cholesterol is so essential to life that if you did not get enough cholesterol through food, your liver will make some? It’s true! Every cell in your body contains cholesterol, which is a waxy substance used to make hormones. Your body also uses cholesterol to make vitamin D and create substances that help you digest food.
While your body needs a small amount of cholesterol for good health, too much of the stuff in your bloodstream can lead to disease. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, which is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
More than 102 million American adults have unhealthy cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 35 million of these individuals have cholesterol levels high enough to put them at risk for heart disease.
There are a few different types of cholesterol; some are unhealthy while others are not. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is a type of “bad” cholesterol that can accumulate on the inside of your blood vessels and block the flow of blood to your heart, lungs, brains or other organs. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is “good” cholesterol that works to lower your LDL and your overall total cholesterol.
Fortunately, you can take steps right away to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease.
Eating certain types of fats can raise your cholesterol; consuming other types of fat can actually lower it. Saturated fat, like that found in beef and dairy products, can raise your LDL and total cholesterol. Trans fats, found in fried food, commercial snack cakes, crackers and cookies raise LDL and lower HDL. Choose leaner cuts of meat and low-fat dairy products.
Opt for healthier foods and healthier fats. Replacing food containing partially hydrogenated oil with olive or canola oil lowers your LDL cholesterol directly. Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can raise your HDL and lower triglycerides, which are a type of fat in your blood. Trade your morning eggs for a bowl of oatmeal. Eat fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods; oatmeal, nuts, avocados and whey protein are especially effective at lowering cholesterol.
Exercise lowers your LDL by helping you lose weight. It also raises your HDL, which further improves your cholesterol levels. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week, as long as it is okay with your doctor. It’s okay if you cannot do the whole 30 minutes at first – work up to it slowly. Get your 30 minutes in by going for a walk after meals, walking up two flights of stairs or down three instead of taking the elevator, enjoying a bike ride or taking a dance class. You can even do arm and leg movements while you sit in a chair. Once you build some endurance, try jogging or playing tennis.
Mayo Clinic says that losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can improve your cholesterol levels. Exercising for 10 minutes three times a day can help you lose weight and lower cholesterol.
Quitting smoking can lower your cholesterol. Putting out that cigarette can also reduce your blood pressure and heart rate to decrease your risk for heart disease. Drink alcohol in moderation. While the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet includes small amounts of red wine, the benefits may not be strong enough to justify the associated risk for high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and other serious health problems.
These five steps may seem like small changes but they add up to very big health benefits.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.