While diet and exercise play an important role in maintaining good heart health, so too does managing your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance created by our livers and present in some of the foods we eat. Your body needs some cholesterol to function properly. But high levels of cholesterol increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. High cholesterol is even linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
There are two types of cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is known as “good cholesterol” because it plays an important role in cell creation, digestion and hormone production. It also helps remove bad cholesterol from the body. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is known as “bad cholesterol” because it can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. That buildup forces the heart to work harder as it pumps blood throughout the body, which can lead to heart disease.
Cholesterol Guidelines for SeniorsIn general, healthy cholesterol levels for seniors are total cholesterol of below 200 mg/dl, including an LDL cholesterol level less than 100 mg/dl, and an HDL cholesterol level greater than 40 mg/dl for men or 50 mg/dl for women. In people who have diabetes, heart disease, or are at high risk of developing heart disease, doctors may recommend LDL be kept even lower, below 70 mg/dl. Ask your doctor what your ideal cholesterol levels are.
What Contributes to High Cholesterol Levels in Seniors?High cholesterol is common among older adults. Some risk factors are out of a person’s control, including:
- Age: As people age, their bodies tend to produce more cholesterol.
- Genes: A family history of high cholesterol or heart disease increases a person’s risk of developing high cholesterol.
- Smoking: Nicotine use lowers good cholesterol.
- Being overweight: Excess weight makes the heart work harder in order to pump blood throughout the body, increasing risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Eating a poor diet: People whose diets are high in fat and sugar and low in fruits and vegetables are more likely to develop high cholesterol.
- Living a sedentary life: A lack of exercise increases a person’s risk of high cholesterol.
Treating High Cholesterol in the ElderlyCholesterol levels in older adults should be checked regularly, at least every 4–6 years. It can be frustrating when those tests reveal that cholesterol is higher than it should be, but seniors looking to lower their cholesterol can take comfort in the fact that lifestyle changes and medication make high cholesterol very treatable.
To meet the cholesterol guidelines for seniors, try making the following changes:
- Quit smoking: Higher cholesterol is one of the many negative effects of smoking. Nobody is ever too old to quit.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Leafy greens like cabbage are particularly good at lowering high cholesterol.
- Eat the right kind of fat: Avoiding red meat, high-fat dairy products and processed foods in favor of healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados can help seniors avoid saturated fat and trans fats, two of the biggest contributors to high cholesterol.
- Get more omega-3 fatty acids: This essential nutrient, found in salmon, tuna and flaxseed, can help raise good cholesterol. It’s also available as a supplement.
- Exercise: Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise a day — like walking — can help seniors lower their cholesterol.
- Take medication: Millions of Americans use statins to lower their LDL cholesterol. These drugs remove bad cholesterol from the blood efficiently, and with few side effects.
Nobody is ever too old to break a bad habit or start a good one. Making lifestyle changes and taking medication that treats high cholesterol can help seniors avoid serious health problems and continue to enjoy the golden years.