Lower your cholesterol to improve your health

By Wana Jin, Program Evaluator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandSeptember 3, 2013

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

September marks the end of summer and back-to-school shopping, but did you know it's also National Cholesterol Education Month? Given the start of a new school year, what could be more fitting than a pop quiz?! (Don't worry, it's open book so you'll ace this exam.) Can you answer these three questions?

1) What is cholesterol?

2) How often should you get your cholesterol tested?

3) What can you do to lower your cholesterol?

Read on to find the answers.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance naturally produced by your body. At the right levels, it plays an important role in keeping your body healthy. Unfortunately, at the wrong levels, cholesterol can lead to health problems such as heart attack or stroke.

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" type, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" type. High levels of the good HDL cholesterol help to prevent heart attacks. Too much of the bad LDL cholesterol can lead to a build-up of plaque along the inner wall of your arteries. Plaque narrows arteries and limits the flow of blood. According to the American Heart Association, more than 35 million American adults have very high levels of cholesterol, putting them at high risk for heart disease.

How often should you get your cholesterol tested?

Getting your cholesterol levels checked is an important part of staying healthy. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults over the age of 20 get checked every five years, usually through a simple blood test. It's especially important to get tested regularly because you don't feel any pain or symptoms when you have high cholesterol. Talk to your primary-care provider about the test that measures your cholesterol levels and when you should get your cholesterol checked.

What can you do to lower your cholesterol?

Lowering your cholesterol can decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. You can start taking steps today to lower your cholesterol and improve your health.

•Eat a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet includes low-fat and high-fiber foods. Eat foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products. Limit foods that contain high levels of saturated fat, trans fat, or dietary cholesterol such as fried foods, sausage, doughnuts and butter.

•Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five days a week. Moderate intensity exercise includes brisk walking, riding a bike, dancing or pushing a lawn mower.

•Stay tobacco free. Smoking can lead to many health problems including damage to your blood vessels and hardening of the arteries. In addition, smoking lowers the good HDL cholesterol levels in your body.

Related Links:

American Heart Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute