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Cigna 2017

It’s easy to feel like there’s too much to keep track of when it comes to staying healthy.

Calories, fat, pounds, carbs, miles, steps — it's easy to get overwhelmed with conflicting science and false health fads. So the more complicated things, like cholesterol, often get overlooked.

Cholesterol plays a surprisingly large part in your overall health, and knowing and managing your cholesterol level (plus your other three health numbers — blood glucose, blood pressure, and body mass index) can help prevent health problems down the line. We chatted with Dr. Christina Stasiuk, senior medical director at Cigna, to learn more.


Image via iStock.

Here are 13 interesting facts about the role cholesterol plays in your body's health.

1. Cholesterol was first discovered in 1784, so scientists and doctors have been studying it for a long time.

There are two major sub-types of cholesterol: good (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and bad (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and triglycerides). Bad cholesterol is a fatty substance that can stick to the linings of your arteries and veins, whereas good cholesterol acts as a sort of broom that helps scrub away those LDL buildups in your body.

Image via iStock.

2. Your weight isn’t an indicator of your cholesterol level or overall health.

“There are thin people who are at higher risk of heart disease than people who may be overweight but who exercise, don’t smoke, and have normal blood pressure,” says Stasiuk. The only way to know your cholesterol levels for sure is through a blood test.

3. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs on its own.

The body makes both good and bad cholesterol, as they’re both needed to help perform a lot of the body's necessary functions. It's only when we consume too much LDL and triglycerides that it becomes “bad” by forming harmful buildup in our veins and arteries.

4. Clogged arteries look like they’re coated in butter.

If your body doesn’t have enough good cholesterol to scrub away sticky buildups, your arteries become clogged with yellow plaque-like fat. If you could slice open a clogged artery and look inside, it would look like it was filled with a thick layer of frozen butter. Uh ... yum?

5. You could end up with high cholesterol regardless of your healthy habits — thanks, genetics!

Familial hypercholesterolemia” is a genetic condition that causes naturally high levels of bad cholesterol. A heart-healthy lifestyle can help, but people with a predisposition for high cholesterol usually also need medication.

Lots of other genetic factors affect heart health too, so the only way to know for sure that your heart is healthy is to consult your doctor.

Image via iStock.

6. Your body can generate good cholesterol with regular exercise.

According to Stasiuk, there are really no foods or drugs that significantly increase good cholesterol levels. Regular exercise, however, can help the body create the good cholesterol it needs.

7. When it comes to eats, the richest foods are usually the worst for you.

"Bad cholesterol is typically animal-source cholesterol," says Stasiuk. "The solid stuff — the bacon fat, the fat around a steak. You're better off having liquid fats, like olive or canola oil or the oily fats you get in fish." Solid fats are the ones most likely to "stick," while liquid fats can be cleaned out of the body more easily.

Image via iStock.

8. Look out for the cholesterol double-whammy: the trans fatty acid.

Two things to look for on nutrition labels are saturated fat and trans fats, both of which raise your LDL levels. But trans fats also lower your HDL, pulling double-duty against your cholesterol health. And both saturated fat and trans fats show up in manufactured foods you might not expect because they help lengthen shelf life. "Think about it this way," says Stasiuk. "The amount of time that food lasts on the shelf is how long those lipids will be in your body." Ack!

9. One surprising source of high cholesterol? Coffee.

Don’t worry. Only when it’s unfiltered, like in Turkish or French press coffee, does your morning joe contain a harmful substance called cafestol, which raises bad cholesterol. If you drink drip coffee, you’re good to go. The filter catches cafestol before it hits your cup.

Photo by Jen/Flickr.

10. Certain foods can help pull bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream and send it out of the body (and it’s not just Cheerios).

Salmon, oatmeal, berries, avocados, beans, nuts, and spinach are all power workers when it comes to scrubbing and flushing out all those sticky cholesterol particles.

11. Women are at a generally lower risk for bad cholesterol levels and heart disease than men — that is, until menopause.

Estrogen helps balance good and bad cholesterol levels in women's bodies. Once menopause occurs and estrogen levels drop, women's cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease rise.

Image via iStock.

12. Cholesterol also plays a big role in keeping your brain healthy. In fact, about 25% of the cholesterol in your body is stored in your brain.

Cholesterol is a structural component of myelin, which is the protective substance that covers the nerve fibers in your brain. Strong myelin sheaths help the brain function, facilitating things like memory and quick thinking.

13. Laughter might be good for your heart.

Research suggests that laughter can trigger a variety of heart healthy reactions in the body. It decreases stress hormones, reduces artery inflammation, and increases good cholesterol. So if you can’t fit in a workout today, make sure you get in a laugh!

The most important part of maintaining good cholesterol health is to be aware of it and, where you can, make lifestyle choices that support it.

It's not about counting milligrams or calculating intake levels — it's about making lifestyle choices that benefit you and your body. "It all comes back to this: go, know, and take control," says Stasiuk. Get your blood tested during annual checkups with your doctor and take the time to make sure you understand your results. Then make small, progressive steps toward better heart health. Nothing drastic and no special secrets — just little changes toward treating your body right!

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

Companies and organizations are on the side of their employees in light of stricter abortion laws.

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People are also organizing over social media. They’re helping locate nonprofits that will help cover the cost of travel from a restricted state to states where abortion will remain legal. Secret Facebook groups are popping up to help arrange transportation and accommodations for those who need access to safe reproductive care. People are coming together in ways you see in movies, all in an effort to prevent inevitable deaths that would occur if people attempt home abortions. It’s both heartwarming and heart-wrenching that this is something that needs to be done at all. It doesn’t stop with determined activists and housewives across the country, this fiery spirit has reached corporations as well.

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That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

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