by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
For many, fitness focus isn’t the number on the bathroom scale. High blood cholesterol is the worry. Its ability to climb quietly, without any telltale shift in waistline, makes it easy to ignore and fear …
Believe It or Not
The body needs cholesterol. It produces it on its own, without the help of Kraft or Little Debbie. The liver generates cholesterol to produce cell membranes and hormones, aid digestion, and help the body fully function. However, the liver makes enough cholesterol on its own. Eating saturated fats causes the body to make excess LDL (bad) cholesterol. This excess can turn into artery-clogging plague that contributes to cardiovascular issues.
Considering the liver’s function, LDL level can be easily increased with the wrong lifestyle. With the liver cranking out all that is needed, the negative impact of that cheese steak sandwich isn’t surprising. This explains the American Heart Association’s belief that the cholesterol of average Americans is borderline high at 200 mg/dL. Numbers over 240 mg/dL double your risk of heart disease.
Risk of heart disease can be present years prior to a cardiac event. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cholesterol screenings as young as nine years old. Healthy habits such as exercise and a nutritious diet low in saturated fats should be started young for lifelong impact and success. Consider enrolling your child in the Center’s FitKids program. The Center offers special events and programs that focus on kids in the kitchen and children’s fitness. Attend with your child. Early introduction to a healthy lifestyle can mean life over death later.
Knowledge Is Power
Lifestyle changes can greatly help lower cholesterol, especially for those whose high LDL is caused by factors like:
- diabetes, or family history of
- belly fat
- high triglycerides
- low HDL (good) cholesterol
For those who have a high LDL level because the liver is producing too much cholesterol on its own, medication may be the best solution. This population may be fit, firm, and eating healthy. They’ve already achieved a healthy lifestyle through exercise and proper diet. Yet, they need further intervention to help lower LDL level.
Your mother has high cholesterol, your brother, your aunt. Surely, you’ll be next with this often genetically predisposed condition. Especially now that you’ve gained 10 pounds.
High cholesterol isn’t a birthright.
Sometimes we can escape our genetic predisposition to high cholesterol through an active, healthy lifestyle. Before fearing you inherited the worst, get your numbers checked through a routine blood test. Perhaps all the reps and miles on the elliptical you’ve been sweating out steered you clear. Regular blood work can provide peace-of-mind, or motivation to take action.
You’ve confirmed it. Action is needed.
According to research, adherence to a regular exercise routine can lower LDL cholesterol by 5 to 10 percent and raise HDL cholesterol by 3 to 6 percent. The goal of your fitness program should be to increase oxygen intake and raise heart rate for more than 12 minutes most days of the week. Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes each day is recommended for maximum results. If your schedule is packed, squeeze in15-minute slots for aerobic activity between other commitments.
Be sure to achieve your target heart rate during whichever activity you chose. Your target heart rate should be between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, for the most impressive results. A personal trainer, Group Fitness instructor, or on-site nurse can help determine your target heart rate zone. They can also advise on safe, effective aerobic exercises to help reach your goals.
In addition to an invigorating fitness plan, activate small changes that have a positive impact on cholesterol. When it comes to health improvement, people often panic. They become overwhelmed by a perceived urgency to overhaul their entire lives. With this pressure holding you down, you’ll be lucky to get out of bed.
Take a gradual approach to health improvements. One smart choice begets another. You’ll experience benefits from the improvement, and from taking the initiative. Small shifts in behavior motivate us toward greater goals. They ward off mental paralysis that results from feeling overwhelmed and guilty.
Tweak Your Day
Whether early morning or mid-afternoon, most reach for a cup, or four, of coffee or tea each day. (Let’s hope mostly decaf.) Innocently enough, we add cream, sugar, and flavors.
Switch it! Go for skim milk or milk with one-percent fat instead of the cream. Those mini creamers that accompany coffee pots everywhere are a wonder anyway, with their super-pasteurized ability to stay fresh and without refrigeration for months. If you’re a tea sipper, try herbal flavors and skip the add-ins all together. This is the perfect segue to inspire a day of positive choices.
On cue, your stomach begins its late-morning growl for food. Replace your desk drawer’s staple of snacks. Buttery crackers topped with peanut butter, candy, chips, and cookies are typical quick-grabs.
Replace them! Choose foods known for their cholesterol-lowering ability. You’ll snack healthier than with a simple low-fat diet. You’ll have the added benefit of foods rich in properties that help lower LDL cholesterol. Walnuts and almonds are a convenient option. Put a snack bag full in your pocket and crunch away the day. A source of protein, along with other nutrients, they keep away hunger pangs. The vending machine and fast food drive-thru will be easier to ignore.
One study determined replacing 40 percent of your daily saturated fat with about this amount of walnuts or almonds lowered LDL cholesterol by 10.8 and 13.4 percent, respectively.
It’s lunchtime, and your office cronies are headed to a local restaurant. Relax. It’s not all salads and water for you. In fact, a salmon entree might be a healthier option for lowering cholesterol. Fish high in omega-3s are a smart choice, in general, and very high in cholesterol-lowering properties.
Otherwise, avoid fried, breaded, and saucy foods. Creams and gravies leave you feeling heavy, so imagine how they chug through your blood stream, clogging the works along the way. Cheese and butter spike cholesterol. Ask for veggies plain with toppings on the side.
Little changes allow you to still enjoy, without guilt, a small portion of lean red meat. It isn’t necessary to eliminate meat on a cholesterol-lowering diet. Choose lean cuts, keep portions to five ounces, and pair it with a generous serving of veggies. (The loaded baked potato, a steak’s traditional mate, can’t be justified. If you can’t resist a baked potato, skip the sour cream, bacon bits, and cheese. Remember: Small adjustments.)
Dinnertime is approached with all the day’s stress and fatigue. That’s perhaps when we most crave foods high in cholesterol. You want your favorite comfort meal. It’s loaded with butter and sauce to smother worries of the day.
Tweak it! You can still enjoy a hearty pasta (try a whole grain version for added perks) with sautéed veggies. Cook them with olive oil instead of butter. Add the same spices and a sprinkle of grated cheese. The regretless results are light and flavorful.
A recent study out of Spain replaced 40 percent of saturated fats with unsaturated choices. Participants exchanged saturated fat for virgin olive oil, a monounsaturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol. They experienced about a seven percent reduction in their LDL cholesterol after four weeks. When you do need to use butter or oils, try to use a cooking spray to avoid saturation.
Experiment by using beans for protein in place of meat. This eliminates one potential source of high cholesterol (meat) and replaces it with a food source that actually lowers it. The soluble fiber in beans helps eliminate cholesterol from the body. The large variety available assures the right flavor for any recipe. Plus, they provide texture to a meatless meal.
When striving to accomplish a better life– whether through an uplifting workout routine, healthier food, a better career, or more downtime– remember it’s a process. As you live each daily adventure, think “What can I do to be a little healthier this very minute?” A grain of sand is small, but it makes up the beach.
Cholesterol at www.about.com.
“10 Things You Didn’t Know About Cholesterol,” by Madeline Vann at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Lower Your Cholesterol in Five Minutes or Less,” by Madeline Vann at www.everydayhealth.com.
Face it (introductory photo): http://www.flickr.com/photos/samuelorchard/4060443172/
Girl stretching: PictureYouth at http://www.flickr.com/photos/45688888@N08/5868478134/
Baby with kettlebell: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/5776466498/
Walnuts & almonds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artbystevejohnson/4787368580/
Salmon entree: http://www.flickr.com/photos/infowidget/2320515127/