Take heart: Most cholesterol risk factors are avoidable.
It's true: Your genes play a big factor in your risk for disease, including high cholesterol. If your mom or dad has high cholesterol, then there's a higher-than-average chance you will, too.
Thing is, it's not just heredity that can cause high cholesterol. Several lifestyle factors also have a huge impact on your risk. The good news: You can change the choices you make. Here are four mistakes that put you at risk for high cholesterol:
You eat poorly
A diet high in saturated fat—found in meats, butter, and dairy—ups your risk of high cholesterol, as does consuming a lot of foods high in cholesterol, such as beef and full-fat milk products. Eating too many trans fats in packaged baked goods will also raise your risk, though it's becoming tougher to find them; in 2015, the FDA ordered food manufacturers to stop using trans fats within three years. Still, check food labels carefully and steer clear of any that still have "partially hydrogenated oil" listed as an ingredient. Stock up on these five foods that lower cholesterol naturally.
Having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 means you're more likely to have lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL).
You don't exercise
The more you move, the less likely you are to be overweight or obese—but that's not the only way exercise affects cholesterol. Working out also boosts your levels of HDL cholesterol while increasing the size of LDL particles, which makes them less harmful.
You still smoke
If you haven't quit smoking, what are you waiting for? Lighting up is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It's the cause of 90% of all lung cancer deaths, and can even cause cancer in many other parts of the body. As if that weren't enough reason to stop using cigarettes, here's another: smoking lowers your levels of HDL cholesterol and damages blood vessel walls.