High cholesterol is one of the top three risk factors for heart disease. Know your numbers and learn how to reduce your risk.
By Letitia Anderson, MD, Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health
Heart disease, despite popular belief, is not relegated to men or the elderly. Women, young and old, can develop this serious condition, and one in three women die each year from heart disease according to the American Heart Association.
One of the leading culprits for heart disease? It’s high LDL (bad) cholesterol — one of the top three risk factors for heart disease in women.
Women, Cholesterol and Heart Disease
The AHA recommends that women from families with a history of heart disease start getting their cholesterol checked at age 20 or even younger. And while there’s nothing you can do about genetics, there are lifestyle choices you can make to lower your cholesterol if your numbers are high.
Consume a heart-healthy diet. Eat foods low in saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium. Choose vegetables and fruits, whole grains rich in fiber, lowfat dairy and lean meats. Don’t forget to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. You’ll find them in walnuts, ground flax seed, fish oil, and fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna.
Limit alcohol intake. While moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to improved HDL (good) cholesterol levels, the benefits are not significant enough to start drinking. If you already drink, do so in moderation to help keep cholesterol numbers in check. And for healthy adults, that means no more than one drink a day for women (and two drinks a day for men).
Don’t smoke. Smoking accelerates the development of atherosclerosis by contributing to fatty buildup in the arteries and impairing heart and blood vessel function. Quitting can help improve cholesterol numbers and lower the risk of heart disease. Within a year after quitting, you can cut your heart disease risk in half. Within 15 years of quitting, the risk of heart disease is nearly comparable to that of someone who never smoked.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, dropping just 10 pounds can lower your LDL cholesterol by up to 8 percent. Take a look at your lifestyle and daily habits and determine where you can make meaningful changes to your diet and exercise. Start with small manageable goals — eliminate fast food, for example. Keep healthy snacks on hand, and find ways to move your body every day.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. Ideally you want to exercise at least 30 minutes, five times a week. If you’re not in the habit, start slowly — even 10 minutes a day can make a difference and help you build your strength and endurance. Pick activities you like and exercise with a partner to help you stay motivated. And look for ways to stay active in addition to formal exercise, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.