High Cholesterol Risk Factors

Should You Be Concerned?

Written by Kamiah A. Walker

What increases your likelihood of developing high cholesterol?  Sure, it is true that it runs in the family—but there are choices you make every day that can influence your cholesterol (and heart) health.

Your lifestyle has quite a bit to do with your cholesterol levels.  Run through this checklist of high cholesterol risk factors to see if you should be concerned.

High Cholesterol Risk Factors
Obesity:  If body mass index (you may have heard it referred to as your BMI) is greater than 30, you’re at a higher risk of developing high cholesterol.

Lack of Exercise:  Lack of physical activity causes many health-related issues, of course.  Since exercise helps promote healthy cholesterol levels, a lack of exercise increases your likelihood of developing high cholesterol.  When you exercise, it increases your levels of HDL cholesterol (that’s the good cholesterol) and it lowers you LDL cholesterol level (that’s the bad cholesterol).

Poor Diet:  A high fat, high cholesterol diet will raise your cholesterol levels.  Red meat and full-fat dairy products are high in cholesterol, so if your diet includes a lot of those, you’re increasing your risk of high cholesterol.  Also, eating a lot of trans fats (commercial baked goods and fried foods are notorious for trans fats) increases your cholesterol levels.

Smoking:  Smoke damages your blood vessels, and damaged blood vessels are more prone to accumulating fatty deposits—thereby narrowing the blood vessels and potentially causing cardiovascular issues.  Also, it’s thought that smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol).

High Blood Pressure:  This also goes along with heart health.  High blood pressure can damage the walls of your blood vessels, making them more likely to accumulate those fatty deposits that can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Type 2 Diabetes:  Routinely high blood glucose levels damages your blood vessels, and as you saw in the smoking and high blood pressure risk factors, damaged blood vessels are more likely to develop plaque—the fatty deposits.  Also, type 2 diabetes raises your LDL cholesterol levels (the bad cholesterol) and lowers your HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol).

Family History of Heart Problems:  If one of your parents or if a sibling developed heart disease early (before age 551), then you’re more likely to develop high cholesterol leading to heart disease.

You Can Control Some High Cholesterol Risk Factors
As you can see in the list above, there are some risk factors in your control when it comes to developing high cholesterol.  Watching what you eat and what you weigh are both factors that are in your hands, as is the amount of exercise that you get.

Take charge of those “lifestyle” risk factors and work hard to protect your heart—this goes without saying, but it’s well worth it.

If you have any of the high cholesterol risk factors listed, talk to your doctor about what you can do to better protect your heart.  Especially if you have type 2 diabetes and a family history of heart disease, you will want to work hard to control your cholesterol.



  1. High Cholesterol:  Risk Factors.  Mayo Clinic Web site.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-cholesterol/DS00178/DSECTION=risk-factors.  Updated June 1, 2011.  Accessed September 1, 2011.


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