According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death among American women over 65 is heart disease, and among women age 45 to 64, it is the second leading cause of death. High total cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, as are higher than desirable levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. Another cholesterol risk factor is lower than desirable levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. The changes that take place during menopause can be a contributing factor, and so can the accumulated result of lifestyle choices.
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Estrogen levels drop during menopause. The Harvard Medical School’s Health Publication says this can lead to increases in total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Lower estrogen also contributes to a decrease in HDL, commonly called the “good” cholesterol. While hormone replacement therapy seems to decrease LDL and raise HDL, there can be negative effects. Since lifestyle changes can reduce total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, as well as raise HDL, there is no need to use hormone replacement therapy for this purpose.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, lack of physical activity contributes to higher LDL and triglycerides, as well as lower HDL. People tend to become less physically active as they get older. This lack of exercise leads to increased cholesterol levels and increased weight. Studies show that exercise training reduces total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, while at the same time increasing levels of HDL.
A lifetime of eating the typical American diet, which is high in saturated fat, usually results in high cholesterol levels. In her younger years, a woman’s body doesn’t show the effects of the abuse as quickly, but by age 50, blood test results may be shocking. Eating food high in saturated fat also adds pounds over the years. According to the Mayo Clinic, a woman can stop and reverse the ill effects of an unhealthy diet at any age by choosing to eat low-fat healthy food.
Excess weight is often a problem for women as they age. Excess pounds are not put on overnight. Instead, they accumulate gradually. An average gain of only 5 lbs. a year starting in a woman’s 20s or 30s translates into serious obesity by the time she’s 50. The Mayo Clinic says that carrying even just a few extra pounds contributes to elevated cholesterol levels. Eating a healthy diet and exercising can remove pounds and improve cholesterol levels, and can improve health in general.