Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels could be just the ammunition to ward off heart attacks and win the battle of the bulge. As people age, putting on a few pounds and slowing down are to be expected; but when excessive weight gain and lack of activity lead to cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary failure, strokes, and peripheral arterial blockage; it’s time to take a good look at controlling the factors that jeopardize overall health. A fatty substance resembling tallow, cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and found in certain protein foods, such as meats, cheese, whole milk, and eggs. While the body relies on healthy cholesterol levels to aid in digestion and to produce nutrients for cell building, liver function, and metabolism; chronic imbalances can be problematic. High-density cholesterol (HDL) is considered good, while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered bad. A proper balance between high-density and low-density lipoproteins promotes healthy digestion and keeps blood flowing to the heart, lungs, brain, and outer extremities.
Monitoring and striving to attain healthy cholesterol levels is one thing adults can do at any age to help prevent atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. A leading cause of death, hardening of the arteries is caused by a buildup of plaque in the blood. Plaque is made up of bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL); discarded cells, and insoluble fats which adhere to arterial walls. Over a number of years, plaque buildup, especially LDL, penetrates the smooth lining of arteries and blood vessels, causing blockages and blood clots. A blockage can cut off circulation of blood to the heart, the lungs, or the brain, causing coronary artery disease; angina; heart attacks; pulmonary embolism; carotid artery disease; strokes; or even death. Low-density lipoprotein is smaller than high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and more likely to penetrate the smooth lining of the arterial wall. HDL, or good cholesterol, acts like little brushes, purging the interior walls of bad cholesterol and destroying buildup. Similarly, the blood of Jesus purges the mind from the harmful effects of sin. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). HDL is like a drain cleaner; and the more high-density lipoproteins adults consume, the easier it is to avoid cardiovascular diseases that plague a lot of older men and women.
Most people are unaware that they are victims of atherosclerosis until symptoms such as chest pain, numbness in the feet and legs, chronic fatigue, breathlessness, or an inability to heal become evident. Two decades ago, there was very little information on healthy cholesterol levels; but physicians and researchers have made significant headway in identifying people who are at greater risk of chronic health problems associated with excessive LDL. Adults who smoke, have high blood pressure, diabetes,or are overweight and have a high degree of bad cholesterol are most at risk of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. People with dangerous levels may be placed on medication to prevent blockages from forming or blood thinners to increase flow to the hearts, lungs, brain and extremities.
When individuals visit a doctor and present symptoms of atherosclerosis, they will be asked to submit to a simple blood test, which measures the amount of good and bad cholesterol. Some tests are conducted after individuals have fasted, at least overnight; while others may be non-fasting. Levels are computed by measuring both high-density and low-density lipoproteins, along with triglycerides, another kind of fat transported by LDL. Alcohol, sugars, or calories that are not burned off are converted into triglycerides and stored in the body’s fat cells. Healthy cholesterol levels should fall below 200; however measurements between 200 and 239 are considered moderately high. Readings of 240 and up are considered extremely high; and doctors recommend taking some major steps to bring the numbers down. High levels are not dependent upon a person’s weight. Someone can be relatively thin; however routinely consuming high-fat, high-cholesterol, artery-clogging foods can contribute to plaque buildup. Evidence of atherosclerosis can be found in robust 20-year-olds just as well as 75-year-old senior adults.
In order to achieve healthy cholesterol levels, adults at any age should adapt and adhere to a good diet plan, which eliminates low-density lipoproteins, such as red meat and other animal proteins, sweets, white flour, and processed foods. Adding two to three servings of omega-3 fish, such as salmon, tuna, or sardines, can boost the immune system, increase healthy cholesterol levels, and cut plaque. Diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, high in fiber, and low in salt and sugar are good fuel sources and provide nutrients chock full of HDL. Reports also indicate that consuming oatmeal on a daily basis over a period of three to six months lowers low-density lipoprotein levels. In addition to a diet free of artery-blocking cholesterol, people should also try to incorporate lifestyle changes which support good health. “Couch potatoes” and sedentary older adults should try to engage in physical activity to improve circulation and prevent plaque buildup. Adding just 15 to 30 minutes of exercise into a daily routine can prove beneficial in jumpstarting a sluggish metabolism and boosting energy levels. Walking, cycling, hiking, dancing, or jogging help keep the blood circulating and avoid blockages. Doctors, nutritionists, and health food gurus may be able to recommend supplements to aid in lowering levels.
Many educational institutions, nursing homes, and hospital cafeterias have adopted heart-healthy menus to provide individuals access to foods that promote optimum health. Grade schools routinely serve low-fat entrees, waist-trimming salads, and fresh fruit to students in an effort to stem juvenile obesity and diabetes, and encourage teens to achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Regular exercise programs and competitive sports, such as gymnastics, interpretive dance, tennis, basketball, football and field hockey serve to prevent future generations from suffering hardening of cardiovascular disease and chronic health conditions that decrease the quality of life.