Professional women are busy. We have lists upon lists upon lists. I have a Palm Pilot, cross referenced with my Blackberry and detailed in my Filofax (yes, very old school) for just about every task that needs to be done. Each meeting has an alarm synchronized to my watch, each deadline is highlighted in yellow and every event for my son is in iridescent blue. As professional women, this is simply part of who we are.
Get out a red pen, because there is something to add to your to do list. Every year, at least once a year, from age 20, it is time to get your cholesterol checked. You might as well make it this month. Years ago, Hallmark declared February the official Heart Month for Valentine’s Day, and now it is Heart Health Month for awareness and prevention of Women and Heart Disease. If that reminder slipped by you this year, it is time to make a doctor’s appointment.
You need to understand your risk for heart disease and checking your cholesterol is one of the first pieces of information you need to have. It is best to check it fasting, so make an early morning appointment. There is nothing worse than going through the day on an empty stomach!
There are four major numbers you will be given, your:
- Total cholesterol
Total cholesterol should be less than 200, although it is not as important as its fractionations, but gives an idea of how much you are at risk.
The LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as L for lousy, or the "bad" cholesterol is associated with buildup of plaque in the arteries. The more risk factors you have for heart disease, such as family history, diabetes, smoking or high blood pressure, the lower the LDL should be. If you have blockages in the arteries, or atherosclerosis, this number should be less than 100. If not, then it should be less than 130.
The HDL, or H for happy, or "good" cholesterol, is protective to the lining of the arteries. It is the part of the cholesterol that picks up the bad stuff and shuttles it out of the arteries before it could do any damage. This, greater than 60 is very protective, and greater than 50 is pretty good.
Exercise has been shown to be a very important mechanism of increasing this cholesterol, and in fact, regular exercise sustains an increase. Estrogen also increases cholesterol, so when you are younger, you are just given lots of HDL and as you age and your estrogen decreases, so does your HDL. So, keep exercising! In fact if your HDL increases by as little at one point, there is a 3% reduction in heart attack risk.
The triglycerides are so dependent on diet that sometimes you can tell if pasta and bread are mainstays in your eating pattern, because it actually increases with consuming carbohydrates, especially the simple kind. Anything white and containing simple sugars increase the triglycerides, so when these are elevated, changing your diet is the most important thing you can do. The goal for this is less than 150.
Controversy has existed around medication and overall treatment patterns for treating cholesterol. The best thing to do is eat well and exercise and to prevent ever needing medications. As long as you have your red pen out, schedule in some time to exercise and continue to watch your diet.
As a busy professional woman, knowing your risk helps you know what you need to do for yourself. One thing we know for sure is maintaining your cholesterol needs to be part of the plan. Happy Heart Health Month!
Written originally for w2wlink.comby Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum.
w2wlink Discussion and Thought Provoking Questions from the author: 1. When was the last time you got your cholesterol checked? 2. Would you like to pride yourself on being on top of your heart health? 3. What are some things you can do right now to care for your heart?
is director, Women and Heart Disease, Heart and Vascular Institute, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She is often cited in magazines and newspapers and has done network news health segments for ABC, NBC and CBS as a leading consultant in the field of women and heart disease, preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation. She has been featured on the Discovery Health Channel's "Health Cops," a show dedicated to risk factor modification in young people at risk for developing heart disease. Suzanne has been the resident physician on "The Apprentice." She has written on topics of cardiac prevention and nutrition has been quoted in many publications. She is, as of January 2008, the Kellogg’s Healthy Start Program on Heart disease Awareness spokeswoman. For more information see: www.forwomenshearts.com.