September is National Cholesterol Education Month, making now the right time to get your blood cholesterol checked (especially if it’s been a while since your last test!). Your body needs cholesterol to function normally. However, your body already makes all that you need. Excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries, which can cause them to narrow, putting you at risk for heart disease and other related condition. High cholesterol is asymptomatic, which means that getting this simple blood test is the only way to know your risk. Take the following steps to control your cholesterol and protect your heart.
Know your numbers
Starting at age 20, you should have a blood test every 5 years to test for HDL, LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease or are already at greater risk, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.
Aim for your levels to be within the ranges below:
- HDL “good” cholesterol
- Men: 40 mg/dL or higher
- Women: 50 mg/dL or higher
- LDL “bad” cholesterol
- Less than 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol
- 125 to 200 mg/dL
- Less than 150 mg/dL
Make over your menu
- Aim to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Make half your grains whole by choosing foods like oats, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, barley and bulgur.
- Focus on lean sources of protein, including skinless poultry and fish.
- Try other sources of protein such as beans and legumes.
- Select fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Choose healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and canola oil
Commit to lifestyle changes
- Exercise for at least 150 minutes per week to raise your good HDL cholesterol. Be sure to include resistance/strength exercises.
- Work on your waistline. Too much abdominal fat is linked to high cholesterol. Men should keep their waist under 40 inches, while women should not exceed 35 inches.
- Manage your weight. If you’re overweight, you may experience higher levels of cholesterol.
- Avoid using tobacco. Tobacco use lowers HDL and can lead to high cholesterol.
If your screening determines you have higher-than-desired cholesterol levels, it is possible to make simple but healthy lifestyle changes that can help reduce your cholesterol. It is always a good idea to follow up with your primary care provider to discuss next steps based on your results.