Too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol is a serious problem that can lead to heart disease. LDL cholesterol is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. On the other hand, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol helps prevent cholesterol from building up in the arteries.
There are some risk factors for high cholesterol you can't control. These include:
Age. As you get older, cholesterol levels tend to rise.
Sex. Women have lower total cholesterol before menopause. After menopause, women's cholesterol levels tend to rise.
Family history. High blood cholesterol can run in families.
The good news is that by changing your lifestyle, you can control some of the risk factors for high cholesterol.
Risk factors you can control
It's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle regardless of your age, sex and family history. By paying attention to risk factors you can control, you can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Factors you can control include:
Diet. Saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in foods you eat can cause your blood cholesterol to rise. Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, can help lower bad cholesterol.
Weight. Being overweight tends to increase cholesterol.
Exercise. Being physically active can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol.
Tobacco smoke. Smoking can lower good cholesterol.
What you can do
Follow a heart-healthy diet. Know which fats can increase bad cholesterol, such as saturated fats from fatty meats and full-fat dairy products. Stick to a low-saturated-fat and low-cholesterol eating plan. Include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, which contain plant-derived compounds called phytosterols that help lower cholesterol.
Be physically active. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week (about 20 minutes a day). You have many options, including cycling, dancing, gardening and brisk walking.
Avoid tobacco. Don't smoke, and try not to be around people who are smoking.