As a staff geriatrician for Hebrew SeniorLife, I often tell my patients: “You’ve got to work on lowering your cholesterol number.” High cholesterol levels are widespread because we absorb cholesterol from certain foods we eat. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, cholesterol is broken down into LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). While LDL can cause plaque buildup on artery walls, HDL helps reduce plaque. LDL can lead to cardiovascular problems and put you at risk for stroke and heart disease.
What’s an ideal number?
A total cholesterol count of less than 200 mg/dL is optimal; however, the levels of LDL and HDL are more important indicators of cardiovascular disease risk. An optimal LDL level is less than 100 mg/dL, especially for those with heart disease, diabetes or vascular disease. High LDL and low HDL increase risk for heart disease. Unfortunately, HDL levels typically fall with age, particularly among women.
I’ve assembled the following tips to help keep your cholesterol in check:
- Take cholesterol medications as directed by your physician
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Cut saturated fats (red meat, butter, etc.) and replace them with fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products
- Eat foods high in monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola and peanut oil
- Exercise regularly
One final piece of advice I tell my patients: you should have your cholesterol checked every five years beginning at age 20 and more frequently if you have high cholesterol or other cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially diabetes.
By following these tips and having regular check ups, you’ll be doing a lot to make sure you won’t hear me or your doctor tell you you’ve got to work on lowering your numbers!