How much do you know about cholesterol? Here are some common misconceptions — and the truth.
Myth: You don’t need a cholesterol check until you’re middle aged.
Everyone should start getting tested for cholesterol and other risk factors at age 20. These measurements help to determine risk for a heart attack or stroke. In some cases, children can have high cholesterol levels. Evidence suggests these children are at greater risk for developing heart disease as adults.
Myth: Thin people don’t have high cholesterol.
Overweight people are more likely to have high cholesterol, but thin people can have it too. In fact, a person with any body type can have high cholesterol. Have your cholesterol checked regularly regardless of your weight, physical activity and diet.
Myth: High cholesterol is a man’s problem, not a woman’s.
Premenopausal women may have some protection from high LDL (bad) levels of cholesterol compared to men due to high estrogen levels, which tend to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. But as people get older, gain weight or both, their triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise. Postmenopausal women may find that, despite a heart-healthy diet and regular physical activity, their cholesterol still rises. This is why women nearing menopause should have their cholesterol levels checked and talk with their doctor about their risk factors and options.
Myth: If your doctor hasn’t mentioned your cholesterol, you’re OK.
Your health is your responsibility. Starting at age 20, ask your healthcare professional to test your cholesterol, assess your risk factors and estimate your risk for a heart attack or stroke. If you’re between age 40 and 79, talk to your doctor about assessing your 10-year risk. Your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes and maybe medication, too. Have your cholesterol and other risk factors rechecked every four to six years.
Myth: Diet and physical activity alone dictate your cholesterol level.
Diet and physical activity affect overall blood cholesterol levels, but other factors also contribute. Being overweight or obese tends to increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). Getting older also causes LDL cholesterol to rise. For some, genetics may play a role. Even so, a heart-healthy diet and regular physical activity are important to everyone for maintaining cardiovascular health. Have your cholesterol tested and work with your healthcare professionals on the plan that’s best for you.
Myth: If you take cholesterol meds, you don’t need to make lifestyle changes.
Medications are important, but making diet and lifestyle changes are the best ways to reduce heart disease and stroke risk. To lower cholesterol, eat a heart-healthy diet and get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times a week. It’s also very important to take your medication exactly as your doctor has instructed so it can work most efficiently.
Thanks to the American Heart Association for this helpful information!