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Live longer, pay attention to your health
Health advice
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A Monroe woman, Bessie Cooper, recently celebrated her 115th birthday. Mrs. Cooper is listed as the world’s oldest person. She had been the second-oldest but Maria Gomes Valentin of Brazil, who was 48 days older, died June 21, making Mrs. Cooper the new record-holder.
Born in Tennessee, Mrs. Cooper moved to Georgia during World War I to find employment as a teacher. She then met and married Luther Cooper who, unfortunately, died in 1963.
In very good health most of her life, Mrs. Cooper attributes her long life to eating correctly and staying busy working and taking care of her family and home. Celebrating with her last Friday were her 12 grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Mrs. Cooper obviously lived well, but she also was the recipient of good genes and hopefully passed those traits onto her descendants.
Have you ever wondered why you must list the diseases your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings have when you see a new doctor? Hopefully you understand the significance of this information but if you don’t already, here is a short explanation.
This is important information for your physician to know because you may be at increased risk for the same diseases your relatives have or previously had. Physicians can use the information to help you overcome risk factors while improving your health and longevity.
A risk factor is a condition that increases your chance of getting a disease. One example is heart disease. Blood cholesterol is a major contributing factor in heart disease, and high blood cholesterol can run in some families. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. The higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risks for developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and men in the United States. More than one million Americans have heart attacks, and about a half million people die from heart disease every year.
Heredity, like age and gender, isn’t something you can alter when it comes to cholesterol levels. But you may be able to control your cholesterol even if other family members were not able to.
Twenty years ago, it was believed that if a disease ran in a person’s family, there wasn’t anything they could do about it — they were doomed.
We know differently today. If your family appears to be at high risk for heart disease, that means you need to work harder to lower those risk factors that you can do something about. You can do that by paying special attention to the following factors:
• Diet: Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat can make your blood cholesterol level go up. Saturated fat is the main culprit, but cholesterol in foods also matters. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level.
• Weight: Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. It also tends to increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL and lower your triglyceride level.
• Physical activity: Not being physically active is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also helps you lose weight. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days.
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes your arteries to harden and narrow, resulting in a slow or blocked blood flow.
The blood carries oxygen to the heart and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. When the blood supply to a portion of your heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.
High blood cholesterol alone does not cause symptoms so many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high.
It is especially important to find out what your cholesterol numbers are because lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease. Lowering high cholesterol levels is important for everyone — no matter their age, gender or family history.
Everyone older than 20 should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years. Pediatricians now check cholesterol in overweight and obese children because the incidence of high cholesterol has increased dramatically in this population group, putting children at risk for heart disease.
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. A person’s total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. A reading of 200-239mg/dL is borderline-high and 240 mg/dL and above is high.
LDL cholesterol — known as the bad cholesterol — is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries and ideally should be less than 100 mg/dL, but 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal. Borderline high is 130-159 mg/dL while high is between 160-189 mg/dL and very high is 240 mg/dL or above.
HDL cholesterol — good cholesterol — helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries and thus protects against heart disease. For HDL, the higher numbers are better. A level less than 40 mg/dL is low but levels of 60 mg/dL or more help lower your risk for heart disease.
As a general rule, the higher your LDL level and the more risk factors you have (other than LDL), the greater your chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Some people are at high risk for a heart attack because they already have heart disease. Other people are at high risk for developing heart disease because they have diabetes (this is a very strong risk factor) or a combination of risk factors for heart disease.
You may not live to be 115 years old, but you should know your family health history.
Discover the risk factors that will affect your health and chart a course that minimizes problem areas and maximizes healthy lifestyle habits. Work to look as good on the inside as you do on the outside — you’ll feel better and live longer.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.

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