Low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein, or LDL and HDL for short, are two types of cholesterol in your body. LDL – the bad cholesterol – needs to stay below a certain level, while HDL – the good cholesterol – should be above a set level. These numbers help your doctor figure out your risk of developing heart disease. If either one is out of the ideal range, making a few lifestyle changes can get them back on track.
Ideally, your LDL should be below 100 milligrams per deciliter, reports the National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Having an LDL level of 86 milligrams per deciliter means that you’re on the right track to keeping your heart healthy. If your LDL starts to wander over the 100 milligrams per deciliter mark, it builds up on the inner walls of arteries. Eventually they’ll become stiff and hard, making it difficult for your heart to push blood through. Your blood pressure rises and, later on in life, you might wind up with severe heart problems.
Your HDL should be greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter. If your most recent cholesterol test showed that your HDL is at 90 milligrams per deciliter, you’re right on target. Just because high-density lipoprotein is a type of cholesterol, it doesn’t make it a bad thing. HDL is a beneficial cholesterol that transports LDL to your liver where it's broken down and removed from the body. Since HDL is so efficient at getting rid of the harmful cholesterol, higher HDL levels help lower your overall risk of developing heart disease.
Other Important Numbers
In addition to keeping an eye on your LDL and HDL levels, you’ll also want to watch your total cholesterol and triglycerides. The number at the beginning of your blood cholesterol report is probably your total cholesterol. This number should be under 200 milligrams per deciliter for optimal heart health. Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, but they are a kind of damaging fat that also leads to heart problems. Your triglycerides need to stay under 150 milligrams per deciliter.
What You Can Do
Having an LDL level of 86 milligrams per deciliter and an HDL number of 90 milligrams per deciliter is ideal for a healthy heart. Although, if you follow a poor diet, smoke cigarettes, are overweight or don’t exercise, those numbers can rise to unsafe levels rather quickly. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout your lifetime is key to keeping your cholesterol levels in check. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week helps stabilize cholesterol and lower LDL if it does venture up too high, MayoClinic.com explains. Limit saturated and trans fats in your diet and opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead – think avocados, nuts, seeds and cold-water fish, not steak and bacon. Lastly, if you smoke, you'll have to quit. While your cholesterol may be on target right now, smoking drastically impacts it over time, upping your chances of having heart disease.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.