It is common for cholesterol production to become excessive as we age. High cholesterol levels are widespread because we absorb it 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.
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.
Ihab Hajjar, M.D., former associate director of the Cardiovascular Research Laboratory at Hebrew SeniorLife's Institute for Aging Research, offers the following tips to 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
Dr. Hajjar says to 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.