Elizabeth S. Reames | 8/29/2006 8:37:20 PM
In observance of September as National Cholesterol Education Month, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames notes that one out of every two men and one out of every three women will develop heart disease sometime in their lives.
Whether you have heart disease or want to prevent it, Reames says you can reduce your risk for having a heart attack by lowering your blood cholesterol level. She recommends following National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) guidelines to reduce your risk of heart disease:
– Get a fasting lipoprotein profile to find out what your cholesterol numbers are. Desirable numbers are those less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter – one tenth of a liter); the borderline high risk range is 200–239 mg/dL; and high risk figures are 240 mg/dL and higher.
In general, people who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL have twice the risk of heart attack as people whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL.
"LDL cholesterol levels are a better gauge of risk for heart attack and stroke than total blood cholesterol," Reames says, adding, "The lower the LDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk." Optimal LDL cholesterol levels are less than 100 mg/dL, according to the NHLBI.
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels above 60 mg/dL offer protection against heart disease. HDL cholesterol levels below 40 mg/dL increase heart disease risk.
"Discuss your risk for heart disease with your physician or other health care provider and take steps to reduce the risk factors that put you at risk," Reames advises.
– Learn how to read a food label. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. Eating too many foods high in saturated fat may increase blood levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) and total cholesterol. High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease.
Eating foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids may help lower LDL cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease. Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats decreases LDL cholesterol levels.
Trans fatty acids act like saturated fats and raise LDL cholesterol levels. They may also lower HDL ("good" cholesterol) in the blood.
– See how your weight measures up by learning what your body mass index (BMI) is. The NHLBI Web site has a BMI calculator you can use to calculate your BMI, or you can ask an LSU AgCenter extension agent at your local parish office for a BMI chart.
– Participate in physical activity of moderate intensity, like brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes on most and, preferably, all days of the week. Break the 30 minutes into three, 10-minute segments during the day, if you can’t do it all at one time.
To maintain health, all adults should be moderately active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. To help manage body weight and prevent unhealthy weight gain, Reames recommends increasing that time to at least 60 minutes per day. Children and adolescents also need to be active for at least 60 minutes per day.
"So pry the kids off the couch and help yourself stay fit as well by doing enjoyable activities together," the nutritionist says.
– Include physical activity in everyday life by using the stairs – both up and down – instead of the elevator. Start with one flight of stairs and gradually build up to more. Park a few blocks from the office or store and walk the rest of the way. If you take public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk a few blocks. Take frequent activity breaks while working. Get up and stretch, walk around and give your muscles and mind a change of pace.
Take a brisk stroll around the neighborhood or your office building instead of eating that extra snack. Do housework, gardening or yardwork at a more vigorous pace. Walk around the airport terminal, bus station or train station rather than sitting and waiting.
– Don't smoke. If you do smoke, contact your healthcare provider to discuss ways in which they can help you quit.
– Use MyPyramid as a guide for healthy eating. Look for it at MyPyramid.gov.
For related family and consumer topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter homepage at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.