Oftentimes, we hear about the importance of lowering our cholesterol levels, without really understanding what cholesterol even is or how it affects our overall health. Yet, for 95 million adults in the U.S. over the age of 20, high cholesterol is a reality which demands attention – and in some cases, medical intervention.
Left unaddressed, having too much LDL cholesterol could lead to serious issues, including heart attack and stroke. Discover what you need to know about this widespread issue and its potential implications on your health below.
What Is LDL Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy lipid generated by the liver. Although it plays a crucial role in the development of cell membranes, hormones, and vitamin D, having too much cholesterol can lead to a number of health issues.
You may have heard that there are two types of cholesterol: the “good” kind and the “bad” kind. LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is associated with the “bad” cholesterol. Because cholesterol can’t dissolve or move through blood on its own, this protein carries particles of cholesterol through the blood. It can also accumulate within the artery walls, causing them to harden and narrow in a condition known as atherosclerosis.
Having too much LDL cholesterol in your blood increases the risk for heart disease, the number-one cause of death in the U.S. Heart disease is the collective term for a number of conditions that affect the heart, many of which can cause heart attack or stroke. When cholesterol accumulates on the artery walls, it can lead to what’s known as a cholesterol plaque. Over time, this plaque can impede blood flow, preventing the heart or brain from getting the oxygen needed to function. If the blood flow is blocked completely, a stroke or heart attack can ensue.
Ideally, your LDL cholesterol level should fall below 100. Yet, many individuals fall within the following range:
- 100-129: near optimal
- 130-159: borderline
- 160-189: high
- 190 or higher: very high 
What Causes High LDL Cholesterol?
As with many conditions, the causes of high cholesterol are vast. While some factors are within your control to change, others, such as age and family history, are not. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common causes for high LDL cholesterol.
- Diet: Cholesterol comes from two sources: the liver and a regular consumption of poor food choices. Foods with trans fats, including heavily processed meats, cause the liver to produce even more cholesterol, which can lead to high cholesterol levels in some individuals. In addition to heavily processed animal products, many baked goods also contain trans fats and should therefore be avoided. 
- Exercise Habits: Inactivity can contribute to high LDL cholesterol. While any exercise can support optimal health, regular aerobic activity, in specific, can help control LDL levels. 
- Weight: Obesity and excess abdominal fat are associated with high cholesterol. 
- Age & Gender: Cholesterol levels tend to rise naturally with age. Prior to menopause, women’s total cholesterol levels tend to be lower than their male peers. After reaching menopause, however, their LDL cholesterol often rises.
- Family History: Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke should begin having their cholesterol tested at a young age, as they could be at a higher risk for elevated LDL levels. While younger adults should have their levels tested every 5 years, men should begin testing annually at the age of 45, and women at the age of 55. 
In addition to these factors, cigarette smoking and certain medications could raise LDL levels.
How Can You Lower Your LDL Cholesterol?
Fortunately, there are many ways you can take control over your LDL cholesterol. While individuals with especially high levels may be advised to take cholesterol-lowering medication, there are many lifestyle changes you can pursue to lower your cholesterol as well. Outside of medications, here are a few of the most effective ways to lower your LDL cholesterol:
- Following a Heart-Healthy Diet: In addition to limiting trans fats, eating a rich blend of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein can help to control cholesterol, while also lowering high blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease. Eliminating foods with added sugars is another dietary habit to adopt for better overall health. 
- Exercising Regularly: In general, it’s recommended that individuals get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most, if not all, days of the week. Yet, it’s also possible to break total exercise time down into shorter, more intense bursts of exercise, called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or to make workouts lengthier but low-impact. Ultimately, the exercise plan you’re most likely to stick with is the best one for you to follow, and a physical fitness expert like those from the Cenegenics team can help create a plan to meet your unique needs and preferences.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Exercising regularly and eating well will help you control your LDL cholesterol, but you’ll also be able to enjoy a healthy weight over the long term as an added bonus. And, because higher LDL is associated with obesity and a larger waist circumference, controlling your weight is important to keeping cholesterol levels in check.
Take Control of Your LDL Cholesterol – In Conclusion
While finding out you have elevated LDL cholesterol can be worrisome, the good news is that there are plenty of ways for you to turn your levels around. From exercising regularly to refining your diet to include heart-healthy eating patterns, the lifestyle habits you use to achieve healthier cholesterol levels will also lead you to greater overall wellness. And, with the help of the Cenegenics team to offer prescriptive guidance based on the results of your extensive health evaluation, you can rest assured you’re making the best choices to optimize your health and enjoy a richer quality of life.
To learn more about both the bad and good types of cholesterol and how they affect your health, read our full-length blog, The Main Causes of High Cholesterol.
Next Steps to Begin Lowering Your LDL Cholesterol
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About the Contributor
Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise
Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 20 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.
This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:
The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation
The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT
Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.
Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS
Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.
 CDC, “High Cholesterol Facts.” 6 Feb. 2019. Retrieved from URL: https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm
 CDC; see above.
 Cleveland Clinic, “Cholesterol Numbers: What Do They Mean.” 26 July 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11920-cholesterol-numbers-what-do-they-mean
 American Heart Association, “Control Your Cholesterol.” 30 Apr. 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol
 Bhatt, Ami, MD, FACC. “Cholesterol: Understanding HDL vs. LDL.” Harvard Health. 12 Apr. 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/understanding-cholesterol-hdl-vs-ldl-2018041213608
 Bhatt, Ami; see above.
 NIH, “LDL: The ‘Bad’ Cholesterol.” 4 Dec. 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://medlineplus.gov/ldlthebadcholesterol.html
 NIH, “DASH Eating Plan.” 25 Apr. 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://medlineplus.gov/dasheatingplan.html