If you’ve ever been for a ‘health MOT’ your cholesterol levels have most probably been tested. Along with blood pressure and weight, our lifestyle choices do have an impact on these conditions.
Staying healthy becomes even more important the older we get, particularly when it comes to heart health.
This article looks at the importance of cholesterol, what it is, the good and the bad and how to manage your cholesterol as you age.
What is Cholesterol?
Produced mainly by the liver, cholesterol is a fatty substance needed by our bodies to carry out its normal functions.
It’s moved around our bodies via the bloodstream by proteins. The cholesterol and proteins combined, are called lipoproteins.
Good and Bad Cholesterol
The two main types of cholesterol we should be concerned about as we age, are high and low-density lipoproteins.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and high levels cause clogged arteries. This condition makes it harder for the blood to flow freely to the heart, brain and in fact, the entire body.
In time, if left unchecked, bad cholesterol increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
High-density lipoprotein is known as ‘good’ cholesterol. It actually carries cholesterol back to the liver where it is processed as waste. High levels of good cholesterol are healthy and decrease your risk of heart problems.
You may have heard of triglycerides as they’re often tested at the same time as cholesterol levels.
Although not strictly cholesterol, they are a similar fatty substance. They travel through the bloodstream after you’ve eaten, storing anything your body doesn’t currently need.
High levels contribute to the narrowing of arteries, so along with bad cholesterol, triglycerides need to be kept in check.
What Influences Cholesterol Levels
There are a number of factors involved in decreasing or increasing your cholesterol levels.
The main one is the food we eat. Healthy eating will lower our cholesterol but lots of fatty foods will increase it.
Smoking is another factor in high cholesterol. There is a chemical found in cigarettes which stops the good cholesterol from doing its job. Eventually, narrowing of the arteries is the result.
Not being active enough will also have an impact on your cholesterols levels. It can lead to weight issues too, with fat around your waist area being the most dangerous.
Managing Your Cholesterol
As we age, cholesterol becomes harder to control, so it’s even more important to do whatever we can to keep levels low.
Healthy eating is a good place to start. Avoid saturated fatty food such as, butter lard, meat with high-fat content, cheese, cakes and biscuits.
Saturated fats and trans fats are found in these types of foods and many processed foods. Cutting down on sugar will help, too.
Some fats are actually good for you. Oils such as olive, sunflower, vegetable and rapeseed come under the label of unsaturated. They can be used instead of saturated fats as they are much healthier.
Smoking and drinking too much alcohol will raise your cholesterol levels. Of course, we all know smoking is bad for you but drinking too much can cause many problems, too.
Doing some exercise will massively improve your cholesterol levels. If you’ve not been very active in a while, get a health check before you do anything strenuous.
Walking is a great way to start exercising and can usually be incorporated quite easily into your daily routine.
Small Changes Will Make a Big Difference
Exercise has many benefits and combined with a healthy diet, you should be able to manage your cholesterol levels well into old age. Drinking alcohol in moderation is fine, but if you smoke, think about quitting.
If you need to overhaul your eating and activity habits, start by making small changes. You can build up over time and even the smallest changes will make a difference. Don’t forget your health check first.