I love life and only makes sense for me to do what I can to keep my chances down of suffering and dying from cardiovascular disease and even cancer. There are certain things beyond ones control that will put you at a higher risk, so first be aware of where you are starting out. If you knew that your chances were few to none by following the 7 step guidelines from the American Heart Association, would you be prudent or risky with your health and life?
Before delving into what you can do, let’s first evaluate the risk factors that you have no control over. Do you have family history of heart disease? You may be one whose genetic chemistry prevails you to have elevated cholesterol, low high density lipoprotein (HDL), elevated triglycerides,or elevated blood pressure which will not improve under the best of cardiovascular health behavior.
For this blog, let’s start by looking at cholesterol and HDL. Your HDL, which is called the “good” cholesterol, removes the bad cholesterol (LDL) from the arteries thus preventing plaque buildup that damages vessel walls and ultimately blocking blood flow. The goal for HDL is 40-50 for men and 50-60 for women. HDL is not directly affected by watching the amount of fat you eat, but by the kind of fat you eat, exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking, and moderate alcohol (wine) consumption.
Choose healthier fats. This means avoiding saturated fat and trans fats, and consuming more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fat is contained in animal products with the exception of tropical fats – palm, palm kernel and coconut oil. These fats are usually added to bakery products and some candies. Trans fats is a man-made fat which helps to increase the shelf life of foods. Look for the words partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils on the label. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — tend to improve HDL’s anti-inflammatory abilities.
Get more physical activity. Within two months of starting, frequent aerobic exercise can increase HDL cholesterol by about 5 percent in otherwise healthy sedentary adults. Your best bet for increasing HDL cholesterol is to exercise briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week. Examples of brisk, aerobic exercise include walking, running, cycling, swimming, playing basketball, raking leaves — anything that increases your heart rate. You can also break up your daily activity into three 10 minute segments if you’re having difficulty finding time to exercise.
Lose weight. Extra pounds take a toll on HDL cholesterol. If you’re overweight, losing even a few pounds can improve your HDL level. According to the Mayo Clinic,” for every 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms) you lose, your HDL may increase by 1 mg/dL (0.03 mmol/L).”
Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. The Mayo Clinic also states, “Quitting smoking can increase your HDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent.”
Enjoy a glass of red wine in the evening. We can thank the French for this discovery. The French paradox is wondering how a society that eats delicious creamy pastries, has cheese for a whole course at dinner, and a buttery croissant… sometimes with butter, perhaps with a bit of cheese or meat sausage, as a regular breakfast item, have less clogged arteries and are less obese than Americans or Brits. For years this has been attributed to red wines “health benefits.” According the the American Chemical Society, red wine specifically contain the compounds catechins and resveratrol called polyphenols that have antioxidant or anticancer properties, and saponins. Resveratrol is thought to block cholesterol oxidation by its antioxidant action and saponins are believed to work by binding to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol. Keep in mind, drinking a glass of wine can be good for you, but drinking more has its own health effects that can more than counteract the benefits of the wine.
Following all of these steps to improve you HDL is a prudent move , but if these changes don’t increase your HDL level, don’t beat yourself up. Look into your family history of heart attacks and strokes and it may be that your low lab value is a familial issue. You can’t remove the family genes but continue the lifestyle changes and discuss your concerns with your doctor or other health care professionals. If needed, medications may be prescribed to help increase your HDL level.
In my next blog I will focus on elevated triglycerides, and what specific steps you can take to improve it.
Signature Joanne Slyter, dietitian, Westminster, CO