According to the CDC, 38% of American adults have dangerously high cholesterol. "If your cholesterol is high, the extra cholesterol in your body builds up in your arteries," says Jaime Burkle, MD. "Over time, that plaque buildup can narrow the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to move from your heart to the rest of the body. This puts you at risk of serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and heart attack." Here are five ways to avoid high cholesterol, according to the CDC. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle
The CDC recommends making regular physical activity a part of every day—and health officials warn against too much sitting throughout the day. "A large review of studies published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that even after adjusting for physical activity, sitting for long periods was associated with worse health outcomes including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer," says Erin Donnelly Michos, MD, MHS. "Sedentary behavior can also increase your risk of dying, either from heart disease or other medical problems. Even if you're doing 30 minutes per day of physical activity, it matters what you do the other 23 hours of the day."
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight is strongly correlated with high levels of LDL cholesterol, doctors warn. "Understanding why some people have high cholesterol and some do not has a lot to do with the interplay of your genes coupled with your environment," says Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Your genes and your environment—in this case, what you eat and how much you exercise—combine to form a baseline risk for developing high cholesterol. If you eat a diet that is high in fat, like high-fat meats, fried foods and high-fat cheeses, you are increasing your risk of both obesity and high cholesterol.
Smoking is strongly correlated with high LDL cholesterol, doctors say. "Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking really truly is one of the worst things we could do, not just for your heart, but for your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things," says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. "It's really bad for your lungs. But these risk factors are additive. So you smoke and you have high cholesterol, you have now doubled your risk. You smoke, you have high blood pressure, and you have cholesterol, it's additive. It's really additive. So it's really important for your children, for yourself, for your longevity, but for your quality of life that you don't smoke."
Good Cholesterol Vs Bad Cholesterol
When people talk about high cholesterol, they are usually referring to LDL rather than HDL cholesterol. "If you've ever seen a lipids panel, which is a lab test looking at your cholesterol, you may have heard of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol," says Dr. Burkle. "LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is often called "bad" cholesterol. You want your LDL to be low. On the other hand, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is actually good for you—you want that reading to be high. Those two readings add together to measure your total cholesterol. You want that number to be on the lower end of the scale, too. If it's edged a little higher because your HDL is high, though, that's usually OK."
What Level of Cholesterol Is Ideal?
"For people who have plaque in their arteries or who have other factors that put them at risk for cardiovascular disease, doctors recommend an ideal LDL level well below 70 mg/dl," says Seth Shay Martin, MD, MHS. "For those without risk factors who have an LDL level at or above 190 mg/dl, the recommendation is to get this level down to below 100 mg/dl. People age 40 to 75 who are living with diabetes and whose LDL is at 70 or above may need medication."