A woman getting screened at the hospital. High blood cholesterol levels is one of the risk factors for heart disease.

Growing up, I had always been active and sporty — I even spent three weeks trekking the Patagonian mountains in my early twenties. At home, we had been eating a low-salt, low-fat diet ever since my father had a heart attack in his late 40s.

But being slim, I didn’t watch my diet when eating out: late-night suppers (BBQ chicken wings! Bak chor mee!) became a norm when I started working. I didn’t bother checking out healthier eating places we could go to. If, like most working adults, you have to eat out daily, try this handy 7-day calorie guide.

I had a shock when I took my first comprehensive health check in order to volunteer with UNICEF in Timor-Leste. The doctor told me that elevated levels of both LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and HDL (“good” cholesterol) resulted in an above-average total cholesterol score.

Good and Bad Cholesterol

High blood cholesterol levels is one of the risk factors for heart disease. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol is commonly known as good cholesterol. It removes excess cholesterol and may prevent cholesterol build up in the blood vessels and lower your risk of heart disease. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol is often called bad cholesterol. It can build up slowly in the inner walls of the arteries contributing to the formation of cholesterol plaques.

I was advised to pay attention to my diet, exercise more and to monitor my levels regularly. The Health Promotion Board recommends screening every three years for chronic diseases (which includes cholesterol levels), or more frequently if a doctor advises it.

Getting more active after realizing she was at risk of coronary heart disease.
Bridgette See in red, Run 350 (2014). Photo Credit: RUNNING SHOTS

The Importance of Chronic Disease Screening

The screening test drove home the importance of early detection of chronic conditions: I looked and felt great on the outside but was allowing excessive amounts of bad cholesterol to build up in my arteries. This clogging raises the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

According to a report[1] by the Alexandra Health System, 80% out of 1,500 residents they’d screened in 2014 fell in the unhealthy range. Incredibly, 90% of these unhealthy residents had thought that they were well — just like I had a few years ago.

Related: The ABCs of Health Screening

It Runs in the Family

My health report made me realise that I had ignored a blindingly obvious fact: my father was slim when he had a heart attack, and most of his siblings had heart disease. I had failed to consider the higher risk factors I had due to hereditary causes. It means I have to work extra hard to keep the cholesterol countdown.

I began to exercise more and cook healthier meals in Timor-Leste. But the cholesterol levels didn’t come down overnight. My next health check when I returned home still showed an above-average cholesterol level, but it had dipped slightly.

It became really hard to stick to my exercise regime when my son was born. Often I was tempted to choose a nap over a workout. But knowing how important it is never to neglect my health again (I want to see my son grow up!), I squeezed in squats, stair climbs, and walks whenever I could. I also started to add mileage to my runs as long-distance training is great for the heart. Soon, I signed up for 10km run events to motivate myself to keep running.

Limit your intake of saturated fat and trans fat to keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy range.

Today, in my 40s, I eat healthy food like brown rice, plenty of vegetables, and avoid deep-fried foods. You can get tips and ideas on eating healthy at home or outside here. I work out thrice during the week; on the weekends, I do fun outdoor activities with my son to keep him active.

Related: Screening for Heart Disease

Keep at It

​​​Regular exercise and a healthy diet helps to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Bridgette See (left), Green Corridor Run 2015. Photo Credit: RUNNING SHOTS

My last cholesterol check-in 2014 showed that my total cholesterol level had improved again. It’s now just borderline high — it’s really hard to get radical improvement especially with family history — but it shows that it can come down when we make the effort.

Screen for High Cholesterol and Other Chronic Conditions

For the sake of my son, I will monitor my cholesterol with regular health and chronic disease screenings so that we can have better peace of mind. As a result of my first checkup, I am now aware of the other screenings I should have as I age. Check out HPB’s Screen for Life to find out the health screenings in Singapore recommended for your gender or age.

Remember, you could look good on the outside without knowing what’s going on inside — so make an appointment for a health check, it can only do you good!

About the writer: On top of her runs and TRX suspension training, Bridgette See now wears a fitness tracker to remind her to clock at least 10,000 steps a day.

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  1. Alexandra Health (2014). The Alexandra Health Way [PDF].
    Retrieved April 2016 from https://www.ktph.com.sg/uploads/report/documents/10886_AR_2013-14.pdf