If your blood cholesterol level is too high, you're more likely to develop heart disease. However, not all cholesterol is created equal. There are two types in your body: low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL. LDL is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol; too much of this type of cholesterol can significantly increase your heart disease risk. HDL, or "good" cholesterol, benefits your heart, but not having enough can also make you vulnerable to heart disorders. Talk to your doctor about ways to lower your LDL and increase your HDL.
Recommended HDL Level
An HDL level of 55 milligrams per deciliter of blood, or mg/dL, is considered normal for adult women, says the American Heart Association. The average woman over 20 years old typically has an HDL level between 50 and 60 mg/dL. Although this amount of HDL is considered good when it comes to preventing heart disease, it's even better to have more. An HDL level over 60 mg/dL may significantly decrease a woman's chance of heart disease.
Importance of HDL
HDL cholesterol lowers your heart disease risk by transporting LDL cholesterol to the liver where it can be eliminated from your body. When excess LDL builds up in your blood, it accumulates on the walls of your arteries, making them stiff and reducing the amount of blood that can pass through. If this continues, you may have a stroke or a heart attack. HDL is also thought to decrease your risk of heart problems by preventing the buildup of cholesterol on your artery walls. HeartHealthyWomen.org reports a woman who increases her HDL level by just 1 mg/dL can reduce her heart disease risk by 3 percent.
Increasing Your HDL
If you want to lower your risk of heart disease, work on getting your HDL level above 55 mg/dL. To increase your HDL cholesterol, the AHA advises you to exercise regularly for 30 to 60 minutes most days, avoid smoking and lose weight if you're overweight or obese. You should also reduce your intake of saturated fat by limiting how much red meat, processed foods and full-fat dairy products you eat. MayoClinic.com recommends consuming more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like olive or canola oil, fish such as salmon that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, whole grains and products enriched with plant sterols like some brands of margarine.
Testing Your HDL
After you've tried to increase your HDL, ask your doctor for a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. Be certain to prepare for it correctly or you'll end up with inaccurate results. Don't eat or drink anything other than water for nine to 12 hours before you're scheduled to have the test performed. Before preparing for the blood draw, tell your doctor if you regularly take medications or dietary supplements that you haven't been prescribed since you may be advised to not take them prior to the test.