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Sun, Oct. 20

Know your number: Cholesterol counts

Experts say regular exercise can make a big difference in cholesterol levels.

Experts say regular exercise can make a big difference in cholesterol levels.

We’ve all heard that it’s important to monitor our cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is produced naturally by your body, but it’s also found in food products that come from animal sources like meat, poultry and dairy products.

Even though cholesterol has gotten a bad rap, your body actually needs a certain amount of it to form cells, aid in digestion, convert Vitamin D in the skin and develop hormones. But when your body produces too much cholesterol, it can line the walls of your arteries with a substance called plaque, which can make it harder for your heart to circulate blood. Plaque can also break open and form blood clots which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Important facts to know:

There are two types of cholesterol. LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to the plaque that can clog arteries. Eating foods containing saturated and trans fats can increase the LDL in your blood. There’s also a “good” cholesterol. Called HDL, it acts as a scavenger to help remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries.

If you’re age 20 or older and have not been diagnosed with heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends you have your cholesterol levels checked every four to six years. However, if you do have heart disease or other risk factors such as your age, family history, smoking or high blood pressure, your doctor will advise you on how often to have your cholesterol checked. The National Institutes of Health states cholesterol levels should be less than 200 – 100 or less for LDL and 60 or more for HDL.

“It’s also important for parents to monitor their children’s cholesterol, particularly if there is a family history of a lipid disorder,” said YRMC PhysicianCare cardiologist Nathan Zilz in Prescott Valley.

Eating the right diet, and regular exercise can make a big difference in cholesterol levels, Zilz said.

“It can be hard for people to change their exercise and dietary habits, and some people need to take medication to manage their cholesterol,” Zilz said. “But making lifestyle changes like eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising and avoiding smoking can help prevent heart disease.”

He noted there is plenty of information about health and heart-friendly recipes.

People are encouraged to talk to their doctors, and if they do not have one can use the YRMC physician referral system to find a doctor: 928-771-5106.

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