Take care of this now to avoid significant health problems later

Take care of this now to avoid significant health problems later

Heart attack and stroke risks may loom larger when you’re older, but getting your cholesterol under control when you’re younger could be critically important to your long-term health.

A study of nearly half a million people published in The Lancet found that men under age 45 who had high bad cholesterol levels were nearly 30% more likely to have a stroke or heart attack by age 75. Women had a 16% similar chance.

“This is exactly why we want patients to watch what they eat and know their key blood pressure and cholesterol numbers,” says Dr. Demetrius Lopes, a stroke expert and director of the stroke program at Advocate Health Care.

“The study couldn’t be more clear: You shouldn’t wait until you’re older to try to get your health in order,” Dr. Lopes says. “It’s never too early to exercise and eat a diet focused on vegetables, fruits and lean protein. If you want to be healthy later in life, you need to focus on these things early.”

High-profile strokes in younger people in their early 50s like 90210 actor Luke Perry and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois help remind people of their own risk. But your risks still exist after these stories leave the news.

To lower bad cholesterol, the American Heart Association suggests emphasizing “fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, while curbing sugary foods and beverages. Eating this way may also help to increase your fiber intake, which is beneficial.” You should be active and try to achieve a healthy weight, and you shouldn’t smoke.

And if you’re worried you might be at high risk for stroke or heart attack, you should talk to a doctor. Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of disability.

“Avoiding strokes is critical, and your doctor can help,” Dr. Lopes says. “They don’t just affect older people.”

Dr. Demetrius Lopes is a leading stroke expert who has pioneered new technologies to treat stroke patients in the Chicago area. Learn more about Dr. Lopes here.

Want to learn more about your risk for stroke? Take a free online quiz.

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About the Author

Mike Riopell
Mike Riopell

Mike Riopell, health enews contributor, is a media relations coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. He previously worked as a reporter and editor covering politics and government for the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and Bloomington Pantagraph, among others. He enjoys bicycles, home repair, flannel shirts and being outside.