Cholesterol is vital for one’s health, but inappropriate lifestyle habits can create high cholesterol risk.
It is important to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol such that your HDL level reaches at least 60 mg/dL and your LDL level is kept beneath 100mg/dL. High levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol, will lead to vascular disease which in turn can cause heart and stroke problems. Some people may find it difficult to lower cholesterol levels particularly if their lifestyle habits are inappropriate. Understanding the cholesterol risk factors is the first step to adopting better lifestyle habits.
Apart from rare genetic problems or systemic problems particularly involving the liver, common risk factors for most people that can lead to high cholesterol levels include the following:
- Blood pressure – the increased pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries by high blood pressure can cause damage that promotes the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries.
- Cigarette smoking – this is actually a double-edged sword as it not only can lower the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol), but similar to high blood pressure, smoking can cause damage to the walls of the blood vessels and make them more prone to the build up of fatty deposits from LDL.
- Exercise – the body is designed to move in order to maintain health and vitality. One of the many benefits of such movement is an increase in HDL (the good cholesterol) and a decrease in LDL. Insufficient movement or exercise characteristic of a sedentary lifestyle therefore increases the risk of higher LDL levels.
- Diet – a diet consisting mainly of animal and dairy products will result in increased cholesterol levels. Consuming saturated fats and trans fats, also found in such a diet and particularly processed foods has the same affect.
- Overweight – people with excess fat and particularly those regarded as obese with a body mass index greater than 30 are at risk of having higher cholesterol levels.
- Diabetes – today the prevalence of diabetes is increasing. The high blood sugar levels of diabetics can cause damage to the arteries and will also lead to higher LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels.
All of the above are lifestyle habits that can be modified so that you can protect your health and increase longevity. The key message to understand is that higher LDL cholesterol levels means that it will start to build up on the walls of your blood vessels causing them to narrow and restricting the blood flow. As the arteries narrow, a condition called atherosclerosis occurs (hardening of the arteries). If this happens to the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart (the coronary arteries) it causes coronary artery disease. This puts you at great risk of heart attack. If the same process occurs in the arteries supplying blood to the brain you are at high risk of stroke.
As we age grow older our cholesterol risk increases as our cholesterol levels are prone to increase with age. However developing and maintaining appropriate lifestyle habits involving activity and diet puts it under your control. It is clearly within your own capability and becomes your own choice to manage your cholesterol risk and protect your own health and wellness.