Growing old has its advantages: the wisdom of life experiences, the leisure of retirement, the joys of grandchildren and the benefits of senior discounts. On the other hand, growing old increases the likelihood of health concerns.
Data from Medicare show 80 percent of adults 65+ have at least one chronic condition. In addition, the most common health issue for adults 65 and older is high blood pressure, while the second is high cholesterol. According to the National Institutes of Health, 62 percent of adults age 50+ have high cholesterol. Similar to high blood pressure, high cholesterol causes no symptoms but can lead to impaired heart health.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is essential to nerve cell function and digestion and is used to make hormones and vitamin D.
A fasting blood test measures cholesterol measure in four ways: total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides (another form of fat in the blood). Total cholesterol is a measure of all the cholesterols combined.
LDL cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol, while HDL cholesterol is thought of as “good.” Here’s why: The higher level of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream, the greater the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, higher levels of HDL cholesterol decrease the risk of heart disease. Too much “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream leads to a buildup of plaque in the wall of the arteries. This can obstruct blood flow to the heart and may lead to a heart attack.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, general target ranges for cholesterol are:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
- LDL: 70 to 130 mg/dL
- HDL: More than 50 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: 10 to 150 mg/dL
However, targets may be different for individuals based on other health conditions and risk factors. Seek medical guidance to determine the appropriate target for you.
Adults of all ages can take steps to improve their cholesterol levels. These include:
- Eat a healthy diet: Choose foods that are low in fat, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables to help reduce unhealthy cholesterols levels. Avoid foods, such as butter, that are high in saturated fat. The Therapeutic Lifestyle Diet (TLC) may be helpful.
- Get regular exercise: Physical activity can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels and raise HDL cholesterol levels. For most adults, a healthy goal is 30 minutes most days of the week. However, check with a physician prior to starting any exercise program.
- Lose excess weight: Losing weight can help lower LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels, while increasing HDL levels.
- Quit smoking: Smoking compounds the risk of heart disease in someone with already elevated cholesterol levels.
- Take medications, if any, as prescribed: Sometimes medications are necessary to help reduce cholesterol to healthy levels. Adhere to your physician’s direction regarding dosage and attend follow-up appointments.
Before you reach for that next cookie or slather butter on a biscuit, think about the healthy choices for optimum cholesterol levels. Eat an apple and go for a walk, instead.
ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care can help older adults live independently at home with in-home care including meal preparation, medication reminders and meaningful activities, such as going for a walk.