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Facts to take to heart for National Cholesterol Education Month

Facts to take to heart for National Cholesterol Education Month

Take time this September during National Cholesterol Education Month to learn about one of heart health’s key data points. Cholesterol is more complex than you may think. For starters, it’s not all bad. Your body makes cholesterol because, in healthy amounts, it aids digestion. Add too much cholesterol from food, however, and your risk for cardiovascular diseases and stroke may rise. Need to brush up on your cholesterol knowledge?

Cholesterol’s good and bad sides

Some of the most important information to learn during National Cholesterol Education Month is that not all cholesterol is the same. Understanding cholesterol’s differences can empower you to maintain healthy levels. The major types of cholesterol include:

  • HDL cholesterol—Known in medicine as high-density lipoprotein, HDL cholesterol does its part to keep your overall cholesterol level in check. It carries cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body. That’s why HDL cholesterol is known as good cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can reduce your heart attack and stroke risk.
  • LDL cholesterol—Having levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Too much of this so-called bad cholesterol can promote plaque forming in your arteries. Plaque, a waxy substance made of cholesterol deposits, in these blood vessels can set the stage for a heart attack and other complications.

Learn your risk for high cholesterol

Take stock of your personal risk factors for high blood cholesterol. Some may be beyond your control, such as getting older—your risk rises as you age—or having a family history of high cholesterol.

Fortunately, many risk factors are modifiable. These include smoking, chronic stress, lack of exercise and a diet high in saturated and trans fats, which increase LDL cholesterol levels. The most important lesson you can learn during National Cholesterol Education Month: You have what it takes to reduce your risk for high cholesterol and improve your levels.

4 ways to prevent high cholesterol

Turn knowledge into action by taking steps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Not every case of high blood cholesterol is preventable, but your actions can make a big difference in reducing your risk. You can:

  • Fuel healthy cholesterol levels with healthy food. As New Orleanians, food is central to our identity, but some of our favorite dishes aren’t exactly heart healthy. Save them for special occasions, and the rest of the time,limit foods high in saturated fat and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. Some fats support healthy cholesterol levels. Salmon and walnuts, for example, contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Find HDL cholesterol-boosting monounsaturated fats in peanut butter and olive oil.
  • Get your cholesterol checked. Work with a University Medical Center New Orleans primary care provider (PCP) to stay in the know about your cholesterol levels. Have a cholesterol test with your PCP at least every five years. They may recommend more frequent tests based on your age and risk factors.
  • Make physical activity routine. Go for a run on the Audubon Park Loop, play pickleball with a friend or swim laps at the aquatic center. Just be sure to get in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Eating for heart health and staying active will help you maintain a healthy weight, another way to promote normal cholesterol levels.
  • Stamp out smoking. Kicking the habit can give your HDL cholesterol a boost.

Looking for a partner to help you manage your heart health no matter what life has in store? Learn about heart and vascular care at University Medical Center New Orleans and find a cardiologist near you.