Believe it or not, your body actually needs cholesterol. In fact, the liver generates approximately 75 percent of the cholesterol in our bodies, helping us to produce certain hormones, vitamin D and digestive fluids. The remaining cholesterol in our bodies comes from the food we eat and can greatly influence our levels of both “good” (HDL) cholesterol and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
As mentioned above, cholesterol comes in two forms:
Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that forms fatty, waxy deposits called plaque which can build up in the arteries. Over time, this build up can damage the arteries and cause a blockage. LDL levels over 70 mg/dL is considered high and often requires treatment or at the very least, diet and lifestyle changes.
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL is known as “good” cholesterol as it helps transport excess cholesterol out of the arteries and into the liver where it is naturally removed by the body. HDL levels should always be over 60 mg/dL.
What Causes High Cholesterol
There are several factors that play a role in how high or low your cholesterol levels fall. Lack of exercise, obesity, a diet high in trans or saturated fats, as well as regularly consuming foods that are high in cholesterol, can all contribute.
Genetics can also play a role. That’s why doctors stress that even those who regularly exercise, eat well and have an average body mass index (BMI) have their cholesterol levels checked at least once per year, starting as early as age 20.
Monitoring cholesterol only grows more important as we age. On average, cholesterol levels peek at age 60. And the only way to improve your cholesterol is to know your numbers.
Here are five important reasons to watch your cholesterol:
- Your cholesterol levels help your doctor assess your overall health. Low levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and high levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) can signal you’re eating well, staying active and leading an overall healthy life. Alternatively, higher levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol can signal poor diet chooses and a sedentary lifestyle, both of which can put you at a greater risk for chronic conditions and early death. Knowing this can allow you and your doctor the chance to develop a diet and exercise plan to get you back on track.
- It can motivate you to eat healthier. As previously mentioned, the foods we eat greatly influence the amount of cholesterol in our bodies. Processed foods as well as those high in trans or saturated fats can increase LDL cholesterol, as can full fat cheeses, milk, cream and yogurt. Fiber rich foods such as oats, barley, whole grains, beans and low-calories vegetable such as eggplant can help lower LDL. Other foods that can help increase HDL include olive oil, fatty fish, flax and nuts.
- Knowing your cholesterol can help determine your risk of stroke. High cholesterol and plaque build-up in the arteries can block proper blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke. The more LDL you have, the greater your risk for strokes, while the more HDL, the lower your risk.
- It can help determine your risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S, killing over 375,000 each year. It is also kills more women each year than all cancer deaths combined. Atherosclerosis is a form of heart disease caused when high levels of cholesterol in the blood begin to cling to the arteries. Over time, this can cause a blockage in the heart and ultimately lead to a heart attack. Knowing your cholesterol levels can help you take the necessary steps to lower LDL in your blood, helping to decrease your overall risk of heart disease.
- Watching your cholesterol may help you live longer. Knowing you have high cholesterol is the first step in treating it and increasing your longevity. Regular monitoring of cholesterol can help you make the necessary diet and lifestyle changes needed to prevent a potential issue. It can also help you and your doctor to know if those changes are working or if you may require a cholesterol lowering medication in conjunction with proper diet and exercise.
Helping Seniors Maintain Active, Health Lives At Western Home Communities
As we age, eating healthy and staying active isn’t always so easy. At Western Home Communities we offer healthy dining options that allow seniors to take the guesswork out of eating right. Additionally, we offer a number of health and wellness programs designed to help seniors stay active and fit, no matter what their age.
Learn more about what life is like at Western Home Communities. Contact us today to learn more and to schedule a tour.