Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells. The body requires cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D and digestive substances.
The human body makes all cholesterol necessary to function. But when there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can combine with other substances and form plaque that sticks to artery walls—a problem known as atherosclerosis. The condition can lead to coronary artery disease, in which the arteries become narrow or sometimes even blocked.
Thankfully, high cholesterol can be managed. Although sometimes things are unavoidable, there are several steps you can take to keep your cholesterol levels at bay. The following are five changeable conditions that put you at risk for high cholesterol, which you can start altering today for better health tomorrow.
Eating saturated fat (found in animal products) and trans fats (found in processed foods) can raise your cholesterol. Foods that are high in cholesterol include red meat, full-fat dairy products and other items from animal sources, such as egg yolks. Consider maintaining a low-salt diet that includes ample quantities of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, restrained amounts of animal fats, and good fats only in moderation.
Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater puts you at risk for high cholesterol.
Large waist circumference
Related to BMI, your risk for high cholesterol increases if you are a woman with a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters).
Lack of exercise
Exercise helps boost your body’s high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol. HDL cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver. Moreover, staying active increases the size of the particles that make up your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol, which makes it less harmful. LDL is the type of cholesterol that builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow. Exercise on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes can help with your cholesterol levels.
Cigarette smoking damages the walls of your blood vessels, making them more likely to accumulate the cholesterol along its sides. Smoking may also lower your level of good cholesterol.
High cholesterol doesn’t present any physical symptoms. A blood test is the only way to detect high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about getting tested.