Should you really get your cholesterol levels regularly checked?

Getting your cholesterol checked can be a good way of knowing just how healthy your heart is.

While you need cholesterol to help with things like making vitamin D and hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, if there’s too much of that fatty stuff from your liver in your blood it could build up in your arteries and cause a heart attack.

It’s particularly important you get your cholesterol levels looked at from time to time, especially if you have a family history of heart disease or you are overweight. A baseline reading will give your doctor a place from which to start so that any changes in your risk levels can be dealt with more effectively.

Australian guidelines recommend you have a total cholesterol level of less than 4.0mmol/L (that’s millimole per litre). It recommends your good cholesterol (HDL) be above 1.0mmol/L and your bad cholesterol (LDL) is below 2.0mmol/L.

It’s also recommended that you get your cholesterol levels checked out every five years (or as recommended by your health care professional) once you’ve reached the age of 45.

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Your doctor uses the cholesterol tests to determine your overall health risk. The results are often factored in with your age, gender, cultural background, blood pressure reading, any medication you might be taking, and whether or not you have diabetes or are a smoker.

You can keep your cholesterol levels at a healthy level in a number of ways:

  • Through diet, by limiting foods that are rich in saturated fats, avoiding trans fats, and by focussing on foods that are rich in dietary fibre.
  • Through exercise, where the recommendations are between 2.5 and 5 hours a week (or at least 30 minutes a day most days) of moderate intensity activity — the type that gets you huffing and puffing.
  • By quitting smoking (if you’re a smoker), as it affects the health of your blood vessels and can increase the speed at which cholesterol gets into the walls of your arteries.

When was the last time you had your cholesterol checked? Are you in a risk category?