You may have heard it before, but high cholesterol levels put you at risk for cardiovascular problems including heart attack and stroke. Even if you have low cholesterol, you should be aware if any of your current behaviors may one day put you at risk for a heart attack. Also, if you’re male, high cholesterol is a major cause of sexual health problems including erectile dysfunction and impotency. High cholesterol can do damage to the arteries and veins that allow for proper blood flow to the penis making it difficult to achieve a full and lasting erection.

Here are a few of the conditions that can put you at risk for high cholesterol:

Heredity
Do immediate members of your family suffer from high cholesterol? This can put you at a much greater risk than you may imagine. Scientists have found a direct genetic link between cholesterol levels amongst family members. If high cholesterol runs in your family, even with a relatively healthy diet you may be at risk for the disease just because of your genetics. Also, eating habits tend to be consistent amongst family members, so unhealthy eating habits can be passed from generation to generation. Carefully consider your family’s eating habits to see if that puts you or subsequent generations at risk of high cholesterol.

Age
Age does play a factor as it pertains to cholesterol levels, but it varies by sex. In men, cholesterol levels tend to begin to rise at about the age of twenty and they level off somewhere in the early fifties. In women, cholesterol levels usually stay fairly low until after menopause. After menopause, women’s LDL or bad cholesterol levels tend to rise.

Physical Inactivity
Do you have a desk job that keeps you inactive all day or do you spend a lot of time on the couch watching TV? Physical inactivity is linked with high cholesterol levels. But conversely, getting the right amount of exercise can help lower your bad cholesterol levels and raise your good cholesterol levels. And you don’t have to be a world class athlete, just 30 minutes a day for five days a week can really make a huge impact on your cholesterol levels and overall health.

Smoking
Nicotine, the active, addictive ingredient in tobacco products, stimulates the release of adrenaline into the system. This in turn stimulates the breakdown of fats and increases the blood levels of free fatty acids and stimulates the releases of VLDL (similar to LDL or bad cholesterol) and triglyceride into the blood stream.

Your Eating Habits
Last, but definitely not least, your eating habits have the largest impact on your cholesterol levels. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and low in fiber is a recipe for high cholesterol. The best way to lower your cholesterol levels is to eat plenty of fruit, foods high in soluble fiber and whole grains.