Most of us know that cholesterol is important for our health.
However, to many, cholesterol is just an ambiguous thing that we hear about occasionally and then swiftly move on with our lives. However, cholesterol is a crucial part of our health and managing it isn’t as hard as one might think. There are a variety of things that contribute to our cholesterol levels, such as diet, exercise, and family history.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body makes for the production of cells, hormones, and vitamin D, as well as other functions. There are two types of cholesterol; LDL’s, which are the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL’s, the “good” cholesterol. Cholesterol also comes from some of the foods we eat, such as meat and oils. Too much cholesterol contributes to a buildup of the waxy material in our blood vessels, increasing our risk for heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Eating a diet that is high in soluble fibers helps to lower the lousy cholesterol and prevent it from building up in our vessels. Soluble fibers are those that can be dissolved in water and they work by indirectly removing the bad cholesterol from the bloodstream. Some foods that are high in soluble fibers are beans, many fruits, and whole grains.
Exercise is another way to help limit buildup in your body. When you exercise, you help to increase your body’s level of HDL’s, the good cholesterol. HDL’s are kind of like janitors and they help to pick up the mess that LDL’s leave behind. Imagine that LDL’s are children running through a hall depositing small toys and HDL’s are a parent going along and picking them up.
Speaking of parents, some individuals with a family history of high cholesterol may need medication to keep it under control. Your doctor may tell you that diet and exercise will only help so much and medication is necessary, but that doesn’t mean he or she wants you eating fried foods and sitting on the couch every night. What your doctor is really saying is that you need medication because diet and exercise alone aren’t enough. A better approach is to combine your medication with diet and exercise to maximize the benefits.
Managing your cholesterol levels is an important of your health. These are just a couple of tips to help manage them on your own but it is important to have open discussions about your health with your physician. Getting regular checkups and having questions ready in advance is a good way to monitor your cholesterol levels and learn the next step. However, good nutrition and exercise is great place to start.
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Lenna Ahlers, RDN, LD, is a long-term care dietitian and a graduate of the University of Idaho dietetics program.