Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. Considering how many different types of cardiovascular problems there are—from heart attacks to strokes to ischemic heart disease to inflammatory heart disease—you can understand why it’s so important to take special care to protect your heart. There are many risk factors that can play a role in cardiovascular disease: diet, obesity, exercise, genetics, etc. But the #1 heart attack risk factor is your cholesterol level!
Why Cholesterol Matters
Cholesterol may be perceived as “bad”—after all, it’s what’s causing so many heart attacks, right? The truth is that your body needs cholesterol in order to produce hormones and healthy cells. Your liver produces a certain amount of cholesterol to meet the body’s demands for these fat cells. A normal, healthy person gets enough serum cholesterol from their liver, ensuring that their body has what they need to produce more hormones and cells.
However, there are times when the “bad” cholesterol—known as low density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol—rises out of control. Genetics, diet, BMI, exercise, and many other things cause this increase in LDL cholesterol. The increase in the low-density fat cells leads to a higher risk of the fat clinging to the arterial walls. Your body treats them as invaders, sending white blood cells to attack them. But this just causes oxidation of the LDL cholesterol and turns it into hard plaque that reduces arterial flexibility. Too much LDL cholesterol turned into plaque can lead to arterial narrowing, and is the #1 risk factor behind heart attacks and strokes.
Not all cholesterol is bad. High density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, is tasked with keeping your LDL cholesterol levels under control. In a healthy body, HDL cholesterol is usually able to keep LDL cholesterol in check. However, in those with high cholesterol levels, the HDL cholesterol has been suppressed to the point that it cannot control the LDL cholesterol. Thus, the bad cholesterol roams unchecked and increases the risk of heart attacks.
It’s All About the Balance
To stay healthy, it’s vital that you balance out the two types of cholesterol. Or, better yet, LOWER your levels of LDL cholesterol while RAISING your HDL cholesterol. Exercise, healthy diet, and weight loss all increase HDL cholesterol, which can in turn lower LDL cholesterol on its own. Even a small increase in HDL cholesterol can cause visible results in your LDL cholesterol levels. Get your cholesterol in balance, and you shouldn’t have to worry about heart attacks.
Keep Your Good Cholesterol Up
How can you keep up your HDL cholesterol? First off, stop smoking! Smoking stops your body from producing HDL cholesterol, AND makes it easier for the LDL cholesterol to cling to your arteries. Exercise can also raise your HDL cholesterol levels, as can eating more foods rich in fiber and unsaturated fats. Focus on eating and living healthy, and it will improve your HDL cholesterol levels.
More Ways to Protect Your Heart
If you want to keep your heart healthy, there are a few easy things you can do. First, cut out all processed and artificial foods. Second, eat more raw foods that are rich in fiber. Also add more whole grains and healthy fats to your diet. Move around more, and be more active on the weekends even when you’re not at the gym. Cut back on alcohol intake and quit smoking. Get rid of serious stressors in your life, and get more sleep at night. All of these things will keep your heart healthy and going strong for years to come!