Your cholesterol typically starts climbing up after the age of 20. This is usually the starting age for needing to get regular cholesterol checks every 5 years. If you have previously had a high cholesterol test, or if you have a family history of it, your doctor may want you to have your cholesterol checked more regularly.
Some cholesterol, your high-density lipoprotein (HDL), is actually beneficial for you. As HDL molecules scavenge through your blood, they pick up and transport low-density lipoprotein (LDL) molecules out of your body. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that hardens arteries and increases your chances of developing major health problems. For optimal heart health, you want your HDL to be higher, and your LDL to be lower.
Your lab report will come back with several numbers. Usually the first one you’ll notice is your total cholesterol. It’s best if your total cholesterol stays below 200 mg/dL. If your total cholesterol goes above 240 mg/dL, it’s considered high and your doctor will want to work with you immediately to try to get it down to a healthier range. Your LDL should stay below 100 mg/dL, while your HDL should be greater than 60 mg/dL.
In addition to these cholesterol numbers, pay attention to your triglycerides. While they’re not a type of cholesterol, triglycerides are a fatty acid that also elevate your chances of heart problems if they get too high. Your triglycerides should be less than 100 mg/dL.
Yes. Because your cholesterol is already high — or borderline high — your doctor will want to work with you to change some undesirable habits you may have. For instance, he or she will talk with you about your diet. You’ll need to decrease sodium, saturated fat, sugar, and trans fatty acids in your diet, but you’ll also have to boost your fiber intake.
Exercising for just 30 minutes on most days of the week has also been proven to lower and stabilize cholesterol levels, especially if you’re overweight. If needed, your healthcare provider can prescribe medications that help your body get rid of excess cholesterol.
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