High cholesterol is a fast track towards heart disease, especially in seniors. Learn which risk factors you can control in lowering your cholesterol.
If you’ve been avoiding those French fries and prepackaged cookies with hopes of lowering your cholesterol, but still haven’t seen the results you want, you may only be tending to one part of the problem.
There are several risk factors that play into high cholesterol – some you can control and some you cannot. It’s important to know which factors apply to you, so you can take the right steps to take control of your cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that is made in your liver. While 80% of cholesterol is made within the body, it can also be found in foods like dairy products, eggs and meat.
If you’ve ever had a biometric health screening (a test measuring different physical characteristics, including cholesterol levels), you’ve probably learned about both good and bad cholesterol.
Bad cholesterol (LDL) causes fatty buildups in your arteries. These buildups narrow your arteries, which increases your risk of a heart attack, stroke or heart disease. In fact, nearly 70% of men and women have heart disease by the time they reach retirement age.
These 5 foods can lower your cholesterol numbers.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal contains soluble fiber, which reduces LDL cholesterol.
- Fish – Fatty fish like mackerel, trout, sardines, salmon and tuna are heart healthy because of their high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Nuts – Nuts like almonds and walnuts are rich in heart-friendly polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Olive oil – Olive oil contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your LDL cholesterol.
- Plant sterols and stanols – These occur naturally in many grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. By increasing your intake of foods high in sterols and stanols, you can reduce LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent.
Risk Factors Out of Your Control
As mentioned above, there are some risks for high cholesterol that are beyond our control. And while you can’t change them, it’s still important to know if you fall into a category that puts you at a higher risk of heart disease.
- Age – Men over 45 and women over 55 are at higher risk than their younger counterparts.
- Gender – Men are more prone to high cholesterol than women – until women reach 50 to 55 years of age.
- Family history – Your risk is higher if an immediate family member had high cholesterol or associated problems such as heart disease.
- Race – Race can also predetermine part of your cholesterol risk.
Risk Factors in Your Control
Factors you can control are related to your lifestyle, such as what you eat and how much you exercise.
- Diet – 20 percent of cholesterol comes from the foods you eat – especially in saturated fats.
- Activity level -Frequent, moderate exercise has been shown to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol. In this case exercise really is medicine!
- Weight – Losing just 10 percent of your weight (if you are overweight), can improve good cholesterol levels.
- Smoking – Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol. Quitting can potentially improve good cholesterol levels. And there are numerous other benefits from stopping smoking.
Lowering Your Bad (LDL) Cholesterol
When a patient has high LDL cholesterol levels, we help them set goals to lower their LDL level based on their chance of having a heart problem or stroke. We usually take a look at things like cholesterol numbers, age, smoking habits, blood pressure, use of blood pressure medicines, and preexisting conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
We then move forward with a strategy that involves changing your diet and exercise habits and possibly a medication that will help lower your cholesterol. Typically, if you are at risk of heart disease and require medication, we will want to lower your cholesterol by 30 to 50 percent.
It’s recommended that as a senior, you get your cholesterol checked every four years.
When your primary care provider decides that treatment for high cholesterol is necessary, it is important to know that this treatment is, for the most part, a lifelong process. While medications can rapidly lower your cholesterol levels, it can take up to a year to see the effects from lifestyle modifications. Therefore, adhering to both your prescribed medication and lifestyle modifications is important. You may be tempted to stop your treatment once you see results. This almost certainly will cause your lipid levels to rise again. If you are experiencing side effects from the medications, talk with your medical provider about other options. There are many medications to choose from.
Partner with your medical provider to develop a plan for managing your cholesterol. You’ll feel better knowing you’re reducing the risk of heart disease.