Many of you have probably been told at some stage that you have high cholesterol and that you either need to start medication immediately or you need to adjust your diet and lifestyle to try and manage your cholesterol levels conservatively. Some of you may decide to take medication so that you can eat whatever you want; others may decide to eat whatever they want anyway and start medication when it becomes necessary. What you don’t realise is how detrimental to your health high cholesterol levels are.
It is important to mention that cholesterol is a vital component in cell structure, playing an important role in the functioning of the cells. Therefore, it is necessary in the body. However, high cholesterol levels put individuals at a much higher risk for cardiovascular disease than individuals with lower cholesterol levels. Ideally, total cholesterol levels should be below 5mmol/L. When testing cholesterol levels, it is essential that a total cholesterol profile is done using a vile of blood, as opposed to a simple finger-prick test, as there are various levels that need to be considered for diagnosis. Two important levels to consider are high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the ‘good’ cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
So why are high cholesterol levels so bad? Cholesterol is a thick, waxy substance that sticks to the inner surface of the blood vessels when there is too much of it. This causes a build up in the vessels, which results in a thickening and hardening of the vessel walls, which in turn results in narrowing of these vessels. This means that there is reduced blood flow through the vessels, putting an unnecessary strain on the cardiovascular system. Because the vessels become hardened, they lose their elasticity, which results in an increase in blood pressure through the vessels. As I mentioned last week, increased blood pressure also puts undue strain on the cardiovascular system.
There are numerous factors that increase a person’s risk for high cholesterol, including:
· Gender (men > women)
· Body fat distribution (fat carried mainly in the waist is a greater risk)
· High blood pressure
· Lack of physical activity
Exercise plays an important role in lowering total cholesterol levels, as it increases the level of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol), which assists in lowering LDL levels. It is recommended to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic cardiovascular activity 5 times per week. This means that you must be able to breathe reasonably comfortably, but your heart rate must be elevated for the entire 30 minutes. This will help to keep the blood flow through the blood vessels strong, thereby lowering the risk for heart disease.
Resistance exercises (light weights) and stretching are also recommended for an overall improvement in body condition. Remember: you want to increase your calorie expenditure, so that excess calories are not stored as fat in the body, contributing to high cholesterol levels.
For those of you who think you are too young to worry about your cholesterol, remember – it runs in the family. So, start exercising regularly now to avoid high cholesterol levels later. Do as much as you can as often as you can and be careful of what you eat!
Please visit the Good Life Dieticians blog for more information on how to maintain a healthy diet while still enjoying the good life!