By Stephenie Karony

Thursday, July 12, 2001

Knowing good and
bad cholesterol

Question: My friend heard that knowing your cholesterol level isn't important information when it comes to heart disease. Can this be true? I thought having high cholesterol was a risk factor in heart disease.

Answer: Knowing your total cholesterol level isn't as important as knowing what your LDL (bad cholesterol) level is, because it's high levels of LDL that are a risk factor in heart disease.

Unfortunately, not as much can be done to modify or change your LDL levels. For a lot of people, LDL levels are heavily influenced by genetics. That's not to say these people should do nothing to control LDL levels, it's just that not as much can be done as with HDL levels. Eating a low-cholesterol diet is still important, but for individuals predisposed to high levels of LDL, diet will not lower LDL levels, because the body produces too much of its own.

There is a growing body of evidence leading authorities to believe that high homocystine levels and obesity are even bigger culprits than cholesterol in increasing the risk of heart disease.

OK, so what do we do with this information? To help control LDL and homocystine levels, eat a healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet containing plenty of folic acid, omega 3 fatty acids, minerals and anti-oxidants. To maintain a healthy body weight, don't eat more calories in a day than you use up in a day.

Let's look at HDL next. It's OK if an individual's overall cholesterol profile is high, as long as their HDL (good cholesterol) is also high, and LDL low, because HDL helps prevent heart disease. This is probably where your friend got confused in regard to cholesterol and heart disease.

The good news is we can change and modify our HDL profile simply by exercising regularly. There is a direct correlation between a person's HDL levels and a person's exercise habits. The more one exercises the higher one's HDL levels are.

Q: I'm told that my blood pressure will automatically go up as I age. Is this true and is there anything I can do to prevent it?

A: Most people's blood pressures do increase as they age, and yes there are steps you can take to help prevent this. The following lifestyle changes may reduce, or even eliminate your need for medication as you grow older.

>> Maintain a healthy body weight. Losing just 10 pounds can yield benefits.

>> Get more exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week.

>> Eat a healthy diet. Eat less saturated fat, and consume more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Use olive oil for cooking.

>> Reduce your intake of sodium. Salt causes fluid retention, which may raise blood pressure. Limit sodium to about 2,000 milligrams a day.

>> Stop smoking. Nicotine raises blood pressure.

>> Limit alcohol. No more than one ounce a day for men, one half ounce for women.

>> Limit caffeine. Caffeine can cause a rise in blood pressure in some people. Limit your intake to no more than two 6-ounce cups a day.

>> Manage stress. There is a direct link between a high-stress life and increased blood pressure.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health and fitness instructor,
a personal trainer and author of "Body Shaping With Free Weights.''
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