Your phone number, credit-card pin, social-security digits—these are all crucial numbers to remember. And according to health experts, you should also commit another set of numbers to memory. Why? These numbers could potentially save your life:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL bad cholesterol
  • HDL good cholesterol

Total cholesterol is, of course, the total of your low-density (LDL) cholesterol, high density (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as bad because having too much of it coursing through your blood could mean buildup along the inner walls of your arteries that supply oxygenated blood to your heart and brain.

Along with other substances, this bad cholesterol can form plaque thick, hard deposit that eventually narrows the arteries and makes them inflexible, a condition called atherosclerosis. If this plaque blocks off the complete flow of blood to the heart and brain, you may suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Meanwhile, HDL good cholesterol gets its moniker because doctors believe high levels of it may protect against heart attack, largely because it carries bad cholesterol away from your arteries and back to the liver, where it is subsequently washed from your body. At the same time, low levels of good cholesterol, just like with high levels of its bad sibling, can increase your risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides are a form of fat made in the body. People who are overweight, don't exercise, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol excessively, and eat a diet very high in carbs tend to have high levels of triglycerides in their blood. They're also likely to have high total cholesterol, including high bad and low good.

Achieving Optimal Levels

Your doctor can determine all of these numbers by doing a blood test, which should be a routine part of your annual physical. For a general guide, check out these recommendations from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Heart Association.


Total cholesterol level

  • Less than 200 is best
  • Between 200 to 239 is borderline high
  • 240 or more means you're at an increased risk for heart disease

LDL bad cholesterol

  • Less than 130 is best;
  • From 130 to 159 is borderline high.
  • 160 or higher means you're at higher risk for heart disease.

HDL good cholesterol

  • Less than 40 means you're at higher risk for heart disease
  • 60 or higher reduces your risk of heart disease.


  • Less than 150 is considered normal;
  • 150 to 199 is borderline high
  • 200 to 499 is high
  • 500 or over is very high