September is National Cholesterol Education Month, an especially good time to stop and think about the importance of our heart and find new strategies to refocus our efforts to do the things necessary to achieve better heart health.
Family caregivers will naturally think about their senior loved ones, who may already have been diagnosed with heart disease. But they should also be concentrating on themselves and how to prevent or treat their own heart health in order to be healthy enough to keep on caregiving.
Even if you or your senior has been diagnosed with heart disease, you still need to manage both your cholesterol and other lipids to help prevent heart attack and stroke.
One of the best ways to manage heart health is to learn all you can about the actions that can improve blood levels of lipids (fats) like cholesterol, manage weight and eat a more heart healthy diet.
September – seeing that it’s National Cholesterol Education Month – is a good time to learn all about it!
Knowing Your Cholesterol Numbers
The first step in improving your heart health is to know how you are doing right now. This way you can determine where you need to go and which health changes are a priority.
Knowing your lipid numbers will help you focus your attention and decide what lifestyle changes you need to make to get the numbers back on track. When your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers are elevated, it can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. These conditions are preventable with simple lifestyle changes. It is also important to know if what you are doing now is benefiting your heart if you have already been diagnosed too.
These values are generally considered good, though your senior’s doctor may provide them with specific individual targets.
Total Cholesterol Under 200 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol (Healthy) Greater than 60 mg/dL
LDL Cholesterol (Lousy) Less than 100 mg/dL
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL
Lifestyle Changes That Impact Your Heart Health
Here are a few thing that you and your senior can do to improve your heart health. Most are pretty easy to do, others may take you some time to achieve.
- Get yourself and your senior tested if you don’t know your numbers, then talk to your doctor about the results. If you were tested a long time ago, it is a good time to check them again and see your progress or if new actions are needed.
- Manage your weight and help your senior manage theirs; achieve a healthy weight level — losing 5-10 pounds can make a great difference.
- Avoid trans fat in your foods and help your senior restrict trans fats from their diet too; consume less than 2 grams/day but the best would be to eat zero!
- Avoid saturated fat – the recommended amount is less than 7% of your overall fat intake each day.
- Limit foods high in cholesterol and fried foods to reduce total fat intake.
- Stay physically active; find activities that you both enjoy and incorporate them into your daily routine.
- Use monounsaturated oils, such as olive and canola oil.
- Stop smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation (yes, those recommendations fit here too).
- Read the nutrition fact labels on the food you eat or are considering purchasing to learn where the fat is hiding; compare foods to make the best choices.
- Include omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants in your diet and that of your senior loved one.
What Foods Are We Talking About
These are some of the foods associated with each of the cholesterol terms we discussed.
- Saturated fats: meat, fatty meat like sausage, butter, lard, hard cheese, biscuits, cakes, foods with palm and coconut oil
- Monounsaturated fats and Polyunsaturated fats: nuts, avocado, oily fish, seeds, vegetable oils
- Trans fat: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Cholesterol: egg yolks, liver, kidney, prawns
- Omega 3 fats: fish, plants such as flaxseed
- Antioxidants: (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene) citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, carrots, fish
Even Small Changes Matter
Small changes in your diet, physical activity and weight can produce positive results in your cholesterol levels. Don’t think that a little walk, one less doughnut or one pound isn’t important!
Helping your senior loved one manage their chronic diseases and prevent catastrophic health events such as stroke is worth a the effort to change habits.
Take control of your health and be committed to your own health as a caregiver! Being well can help you face the physical and emotional daily challenges of being a caregiver.