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Your 2024-2025 Benefits Guide

High Cholesterol

Healthy Cholesterol is a Key to a Healthy Heart.

Healthy Cholesterol is a Key to a Healthy Heart.

High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. It affects about one in five Americans, many of whom don’t know it because high cholesterol levels alone do not cause symptoms. Knowing what your cholesterol numbers are and how to keep them in check can lower your risk for developing heart disease and reduce the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Hint: Your lifestyle plays an important role…and you may find it’s easier than you think to make some necessary changes.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance found throughout your body. It is present in the walls and membranes of every cell, including cells in your brain, nerves, muscle, skin, liver and heart. It’s also a building block for hormones, vitamin D and bile acids, which are necessary for fat digestion. Without cholesterol, your body could not function properly. Some of your cholesterol comes from the foods you eat. But the bulk of it is actually made in your body, specifically in the liver. In fact, your liver has the ability to make all the cholesterol your body needs. Two types of cholesterol that are commonly measured are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).

Excess LDL cholesterol in your blood is considered “bad” because it has a tendency to deposit in the walls of your arteries, particularly those that lead to the heart. Over time, these deposits (called plaque) can build up, causing the arteries to narrow and harden – a condition known as atherosclerosis. When this happens, blood flow to the heart may be reduced, possibly triggering symptoms such as chest discomfort (angina). When blood flow is completely stopped, usually due to a blood clot, a heart attack can occur. Arteries leading to the brain can also become narrowed by too much cholesterol and if there is blockage, a stroke may occur.

HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is considered “good” because it has the opposite effect. It travels through the blood, picking up excess LDL cholesterol and taking it back to the liver where it can be eliminated by the body or recycled.


Reducing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol is a powerful combination that can help lower your risk for heart disease.

Know Your Numbers

It is recommended that adults age 20 and older have their cholesterol measured at least every five years. If you have been told you have high or borderline-high cholesterol, are over age 45, and/or have other risk factors for heart disease, you will likely need to have your cholesterol checked more frequently.

The preferred way to learn your cholesterol numbers is by having a lipid profile (or lipid panel) done. This is a simple blood test that is often done at the same time as other routine blood tests, such as during an annual physical. The lipid profile provides information about:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides (another form of fat in the blood)

The following table shows how cholesterol test results are generally classified.

Total Cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dl
200-239 mg/dl
240 mg/dl and higher
Borderline high
LDL Cholesterol  Less than 100 mg/dl
100-129 mg/dl
130-159 mg/dl
160-189 mg/dl
190 mg/dl and above
Near optimal
Borderline high
Very high
HDL Cholesterol  60 mg/dl and higher
Less than 40 mg/dl
Protective (low risk)
Low (high risk)
Triglycerides  Less than 150 mg/dl
150-199 mg/dl
200-499 mg/dl
500 mg/dl and greater
Borderline high
Very high

Lifestyle Counts!

It’s no secret that lifestyle is a good first line of attack against unhealthy cholesterol levels (and triglycerides) and heart disease. Consider adding these heart-healthy tips to your life today:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, such as…
    • A colorful variety of fruits and vegetables each day
    • Choosing foods high in soluble fiber (e.g. oats, barley, dried beans and peas, apples, and ground flax seeds)
    • Eating more dietary fiber in general (such as whole grain breads, brown rice, fruits and vegetables)
    • Choosing heart-healthy fats such as olive, nuts and seeds
    • Eating at least two servings of fish a week, especially oily fish rich in omega-3 oil like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines
    • Choosing lean meats, skinless poultry breast, and vegetable meat alternatives (soy)
    • Choosing nonfat, 1 percent or low fat dairy products
  • Be physically active
  • Lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid all tobacco products

What About Medication?

For some people with certain risk factors, a cholesterol-lowering medication may be recommended. Your doctor can help decide what is best for you. Whether you take a medication or not, it’s still important to focus on eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active. A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone.

SmithsLivingWell Resources

To learn more about how you can manage your cholesterol, considering talking with a Health Coach. You can visit and click the My Coach link or call HealthFitness to enroll in coaching at 800-851-5951, Option 2.