But cholesterol, a type of fat in your blood, can be confusing. For example, one kind of cholesterol clogs your arteries. Another kind helps remove the bad cholesterol from your body. What do you really need to know to protect your health?
- Lower your bad cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the bad cholesterol that blocks your blood vessels. Try to keep your LDL cholesterol below 100 mg/dl.
- Raise your good cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol that helps remove deposits from your blood vessels. Aim to raise your HDL above 60 mg/dl.
- Triglycerides raise your chances for a heart attack or stroke if your levels are too high. Aim for triglycerides lower than 150 mg/dl. Your doctor may also give you a “total” cholesterol number. A good total cholesterol goal is less than 200 mg/dl.
Your doctor can do a simple blood test to measure all your cholesterol numbers. If your levels are off, you’re not alone: about one in four American adults face the same challenge. But many others have learned to achieve a healthy cholesterol balance—and you can, too. Their secret?
“The key is simple,” Davidson says. “Healthy lifestyle changes lower LDL and raise HDL at the same time. Combining lifestyle changes with medicines, if necessary, is your best bet to manage cholesterol so you can live a longer, healthier life.”
Here are five tips to help you manage your cholesterol:
1. Eat Smart. One simple way to lower your bad cholesterol is to eat fewer trans fats and high-cholesterol foods like egg yolks, fatty meats, butter and whole milk. You can also help your body absorb less bad cholesterol by eating foods that contain soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, kidney beans, yams and apples.
Other cholesterol-smart foods are salmon, walnuts and olive oil. Eating as many vegetables, whole grains and fruits as you can will help you feel fuller longer and cut your cravings for less healthy snacks. Always check the “Nutrition Facts” labels on foods before you buy to see how they might help or hurt your cholesterol-lowering efforts.
2. Stay Active. You can raise your good cholesterol and lower the bad at the same time with exercise. To get this powerful benefit, exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. And don’t worry about going to the gym—walking briskly is just as effective. And you can head to the mall and walk there when the weather is bad. Or do house work or work in the yard. The key is to get your heart pumping.
This week, why not start with just 10 minutes? Take a 10-minute walk around the block every day during your lunch break or after dinner. Or choose another time that works for you. Then continue to add one lap each week until you’re walking briskly for 30 minutes.
3. Drop a Few Pounds. Being overweight raises your bad cholesterol. At the same time, it lowers your good cholesterol. But eating smart and staying active will help you lose weight—and dropping just a few pounds can raise your HDL. Maintaining a healthy weight will help you keep your cholesterol in balance.
4. Quit Smoking. It’s no surprise that smoking lowers your good cholesterol. If you smoke, quitting can help your HDL jump as much as 10 percent. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help. Options include the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler or nasal spray. Prescription medicines are another option. Talk with your health care provider about which options are best for you. And visit SmokeFree.gov to learn more about how to quit.
5. Consider Cholesterol Medicines. Ask your doctor if medicines such as statins, fibrates and niacin can help you lower LDL while raising HDL levels.
To learn more about how managing cholesterol can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, please call the American Diabetes Association at (800)-DIABETES (800-342-2383), e-mail AskADA@diabetes.org or visit www.CheckUpAmerica.org. Be sure to download the CheckUpAmerica cholesterol one-pager “What You Need to Know: Cholesterol.” www.diabetes.org/uedocuments/cua-1-page-cholesterol.pdf at www.CheckUpAmerica.org.