To drive awareness surrounding cardiovascular diseases, the medical community recognizes September as National Cholesterol Education Month. Americans of all ages can have high cholesterol, which increases the risk for serious cardiovascular conditions. To ensure your cardiovascular health is in check, take a moment to discover why cholesterol matters with the information below.

Why Does Cholesterol Matter?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance, 80% of which the body produces on its own. The remaining cholesterol is taken in through foods; specifically, animal products such as poultry, meat, and cheese are highest in cholesterol. Foods high in saturated or trans fats can also spike cholesterol levels.

While cholesterol is actually needed to help the body build new cells and create hormones, in excess, it begins to pose serious health risks. Cholesterol builds up along artery walls, causing them to harden. This impacts cardiovascular functionality by impeding optimal blood flow, putting individuals at risk for clogged blood vessels which can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

What Can You Do to Control Your Cholesterol Levels?

The first step is to identify your cholesterol levels. Oftentimes, high cholesterol won’t present any symptoms early on. It’s therefore recommended for adults to have their cholesterol levels checked regularly via blood tests. Total cholesterol levels above 200mg/dL are considered unhealthy, but alarmingly, more than 102 million Americans over the age of 20 have levels at or above this measurement.

Once you get a cholesterol reading, your physician can make tailored recommendations to help you lower your levels if needed. Eating a diet consisting primarily of plant-based foods, including fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein, is one great way to address cholesterol issues. Avoid or significantly limit your intake of sugary foods, fatty or process meats, and foods high in sodium.

Physical activity also promotes cardiovascular health by increasing circulation, controlling blood pressure, and helping you maintain a healthy weight. The American Heart Association recommends getting thirty minutes of exercise five days per week for healthy individuals. To specifically lower cholesterol, an average of 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise three to four times per week is recommended.

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