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Your Cholesterol

By now most of us understand that high cholesterol is unhealthy. All cholesterol is not bad. Cholesterol is needed to make certain hormones and other substances that assist in digestion.  HDL carries cholesterol to your liver and removes it from your body.  Triglycerides carry the fat through the bloodstream. Too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol (LDL and triglycerides) can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Often the first reaction to a diagnosis of high cholesterol is to get medication. It is important to know your total cholesterol number along with the breakdown of the good (HDL- high density lipoprotein), the bad, (LDL-low density lipoprotein) and the ugly (triglycerides).

When you get those blood test results, read and review them with your physician. It’s important to understand these numbers and work on a solution together, starting with lifestyle changes.

There are factors beyond our control that can affect cholesterol levels, such as family history of heart disease, age and sex (for men, the age is 45 and older; women, 55 years and up).

However, generally speaking, high cholesterol is a lifestyle symptom that can be controlled and managed. Diet, activity level and how stress is managed are all within our control.  These three factors are the key to lowering cholesterol through healthy lifestyle changes.

Keep it simple. As a general premise for overall health and wellness, you need to eat better, move more and focus on the things you CAN control. Simple changes can make a big difference. Here are some pointers: 

One of the biggest things you can do is lower your intake of saturated fats, such as butter and any fat found on meats. Eating better is not always eating less but about being selective on how you “fuel” your body.

Avoid hydrogenated oils found in cookies, pastries and baked goods. Make it a point to read labels. Often, the healthiest foods do not have labels. Yes, fruits and vegetables! Increase your fiber intake through foods like oatmeal, whole grains and legumes.

Include soy and Omega-3 oils like flaxseed and fish oil. Consider plant sterols found in health food stores.  Avoid processed foods that often contain hidden saturated fats and excessive sodium.

Some minerals like magnesium, selenium and L-carnitine have been shown to lower cholesterol.  Talk to your physician about testing for mineral deficiencies to determine what you may be lacking.

Keep your weight in a healthy range for your age and sex. Exercise for 30 minutes a day.  Recent activity guidelines set by the American College of Sports Medicine in conjunction with the American Heart Association advocate that working out at moderate levels in ten minute intervals, three times a day, can have the same cumulative effect as a 30 minute session. Just keep moving. 

Stress often cannot be avoided, whether it’s related to demands at the office or caring for loved ones at home.

But how you manage stress can affect your overall health, including your cholesterol.

Go for a walk, get a massage or try alternative medicines.  Some studies have even indicated that therapies like acupuncture can reduce stress and in turn affect your cholesterol.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a free online program called TLC –Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, with a step by step guide to follow.  It is a useful tool that can help incorporate simple changes in your life.

Lastly, there still may be a need to use medication along with lifestyle changes.  Work with your physician to be sure you are on the right track and keep your physician informed of your changes, progress and concerns so adjustments can be made as needed. 

MaryAnn Molloy is an ACSM certified personal trainer with over fifteen years experience in the health and fitness field. She runs Healthy Body, Fit Mind located at Basics Fitness Center in South Portland, which helps Baby Boomer and seniors with fitness, weight loss and lifestyle management.

This article was provided by Healthy Body, Fit Mind
For more information on Healthy Body, Fit Mind, check out their full profile here.
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