A friend of mine had a routine medical examination recently. The results showed a high level of cholesterol.  No matter your age, this poses a big health risk. That’s because unhealthy cholesterol levels can boost your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other problems.

To understand the issues involved, I liked the simple explanations given in WebMD by Morgan Griffin.

Stating with some basics. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that circulates in your blood. Some of it is made naturally by your body, and the rest comes from foods you eat. There are two main types: HDL and LDL.

  • LDL is “bad cholesterol.” It can clog your arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Optimal number: Less than 100mg/dL.
  • HDL is “good cholesterol.” What’s good about it? HDL attaches to bad cholesterol and escorts it to the liver, which filters it out of the body. So HDL reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in your system. Desirable number: 60mg/dL or higher.
  • Total cholesterol is the sum of all types of cholesterol in your blood. Although your doctor may still refer to this number, it’s less significant than your HDL and LDL levels. Desirable number: Less than 200 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides , while not cholesterol, are another type of fat floating in your blood. Just as with bad cholesterol, having a high level of triglycerides increases your risk of cardiovascular problems. Healthy number: Less than 150 mg/dL.

Experts maintain that there are 4 ways to get your cholesterol down to the desired levels:

  1.  Lower Cholesterol by eating right: Cut down on fried food. Nuts like walnuts and almonds are recommended. Diet tends to help people lower triglycerides and raise good HDL cholesterol, but it’s less likely to have a big impact on bad LDL cholesterol.
  2. Improving cholesterol with Exercise: Increased physical activity can have a modest effect on cholesterol, lowering triglycerides (and bad LDL cholesterol to a lesser extent), while boosting your good HDL cholesterol.
  3. Lose Weight:Lower Cholesterol: Losing weight can lower your bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It also can raise your good HDL cholesterol.
  4. Controlling cholesterol with Medication:  Medication in combination with other measures can reduce your cholesterol levels. However, take medication only on the specific advice of your doctor.

“Exercise and dietary changes have a lot of cardiovascular benefits that won’t show up on a cholesterol test,” says Jorge Plutzky MD, director of the Vascular Disease Prevention Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. ” Exercise, eating well, and losing weight can lower blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and decrease your risk of diabetes and other diseases. And remember that your real goal is not merely better cholesterol numbers, but a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”