Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol in Seniors

As seniors age, so do the risks of heart attack and other hereditary health issues. Many of these problems can be related to cholesterol levels, which are usually curbed by medication during middle age. However, medication alone may not be enough to help seniors overcome unhealthy levels of cholesterol, which can lead to greater health problems. Maintaining an active lifestyle and eating properly greatly affect the overall health of a senior and maintain healthy cholesterol.

  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Seniors should try to be as active as possible within their physical limitations. Simple activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and gardening are effective exercises for helping reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), commonly known as “bad” cholesterol. For seniors who are able to do more strenuous activities such as hiking and even weight lifting, the benefits increase further. Not only do they greatly reduce the risk of bad cholesterol, but also reduce the risk of heart attack and osteoporosis.  Physical activity also reduces hyper tension and depression, which is just as crippling for a senior’s mental health as it is physical.  Any activity to increase cardiovascular health will be a benefit to a senior.
  • Eat less processed foods. Processed foods that are calorically dense fail to provide seniors with the nutrition they need to stave off bad levels of cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are excellent foods for maintaining good cholesterol. Several helpings of green, leafy vegetables provide the most benefit to seniors. While eating lots of vegetables will reduce bad cholesterol, seniors should also be aware that as they age, they may have more problems maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight seniors should be aware of portion control and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Underweight seniors should eat healthy fats found in nuts and avocados and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Gaining weight on processed foods will only increase the risk of bad cholesterol, so stick to nutritional foods.
  • Laugh, and then laugh some more.  Recent research has shown that depression may be directly linked to low levels of cholesterol, which is unhealthy in seniors. As people age, cholesterol levels rise, particularly during middle age, and then plateau in most women but decreasing to a degree in men. Higher levels of cholesterol, especially “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins (HDL), are actually favorable for optimal health in seniors. Paying attention to a senior’s mental health may be an indicator that he or she has lowered or unhealthy levels of cholesterol. Depressed seniors will shy away from eating the foods they need because they prefer “comfort” foods, which more often than not come in the form of processed foods that hold little nutritional value.  Physical activity greatly reduces when seniors are not feeling good and social interaction also decreases. All of these factors play into the general health of a senior and by extension can become the cause of greater health issues, including cholesterol.  Because mental health has been shown to directly affect physical health, mental health is just as important as physical health and the two should be treated with equal importance.

Maintaining mental and physical health, coupled with a nutritious diet ensures happy and healthy lifestyle for seniors. Seniors should not rely on medication alone to help them maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. However, if that medication is necessary, eating a proper diet, exercising daily, and keeping the mind stimulated to reduce the risk of depression will help maintain overall health for seniors. Maintaining a healthy level of cholesterol doesn’t have to be difficult. Talk with your doctor or caregiver about the ways that you can get your cholesterol to a healthy level, or maintain your current cholesterol if it’s already stable.

About the Author

Ruth Folger Weiss is a blogger for Brentwood Rehab, a Danvers, MA nursing home.

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