3. Your Diet
There’s simply no way around it: You are what you eat. And if you eat a diet high in saturated fat and trans fatty acids, you’re more likely to have high cholesterol.
The fewer fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber you get, the more likely you are to have high cholesterol as well as an overall increased risk of heart disease, even without the high cholesterol. Eating a more balanced diet not only lowers your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease, but helps unclog your arteries as well.
4. Your Weight
America has a weight problem. Just consider the seat situation. To accommodate our girth, seats in auditoriums, stadiums, even subway cars have been widened. And some airlines are beginning to enforce policies whereby people who spill out of the seat they purchase must buy a second. According to the latest figures, nearly 65 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese.
Being overweight has repercussions far beyond where you buy your clothes. It’s associated with increased LDL and decreased HDL. Where you gain weight also matters. Pounds packed around the waist (the old spare tire or beer belly) increase your risk of CHD as well as your risk of metabolic syndrome. Extra padding around the hips (more typical for women) is less dangerous. Wherever you carry your extra weight, if you’re a woman it may be even more important for you to lose the pounds. One long-term study of 116,000 women found that almost 40 percent of their CHD risk was related to weight.
5. Stress and Hostility
The phrase "stress" has become so ubiquitous in our culture that it can at times seem meaningless. But to your heart and blood vessels, it’s anything but. Stress — especially the chronic type you suffer with financial, health, or marital problems — plays a critical role in your risk for CHD. For instance, one study found that levels of LDL rose about 5 percent in a group of middle-aged male airline pilots when they experienced episodes of high occupational stress. Stress also affects your endothelial function (which indicates the all-important health of your artery walls) and how quickly you’re able to clear triglycerides from your blood after eating. (Remember, the higher your triglyceride level, the more triglycerides are delivered to your liver, where they are transformed into LDL and VLDL — the "bad" and "very bad" kinds of cholesterol.) Stress can also raise your blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot.