Glossary of Terms: Cholesterol, Heart Disease, and High Blood Pressure

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on March 05, 2021

Confused by medical jargon? Consider this your cheat sheet. Here are all the terms you need to know when it comes to heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure -- and the lifestyle changes that help you prevent or manage them.

Aerobic exercise: Also known as “cardio,” aerobic exercise is any type of physical activity that raises your heart rate. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, running, jumping rope, and swimming. Studies show that doing 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 to 7 days a week can cut your risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, boost your HDL (good) cholesterol, and help with weight loss.

DASH diet: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet plan from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute that helps lower blood pressure. On this plan, you eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. The diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sugars, red meat, and salt.

Fiber: A carbohydrate found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. There are two types of fiber. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and barley, can dissolve in water and helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and other vegetables, such as cauliflower and potatoes, aids in digestion and can help prevent and treat constipation. Research shows that diets high in fiber (the recommended daily intake is about 38 grams for men and 25 for women) can help lower the risk of heart disease.

HDL cholesterol: Two types of cholesterol are found in your bloodstream: HDL and LDL. HDL is the “good” kind. It acts as a scavenger, picking up extra cholesterol and taking it back to your liver. When a doctor tests your blood for cholesterol levels, you want your HDL levels to be high. HDL levels of 60 or more help to lower your risk for heart disease.

Heart rate: Your heart rate is how fast your heart is beating. It's also called your pulse. By checking it when you're exercising, you can track how hard your heart is working. Your target heart rate range depends on your age and how intense the activity is that you're doing. Check with your doctor on that, especially if you have heart disease. You can wear a heart rate monitor or learn to take your pulse using just your fingers, preferably at your wrist.

Hypertension: Another word for high blood pressure, hypertension is a common condition in which blood flows through your arteries too forcefully. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. Your blood pressure is high when it’s at or above 130/80. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower.

LDL cholesterol: This is the “bad” type of cholesterol. Although your body needs a little bit of it to build cells, too much LDL can build up on the walls of your blood vessels over time, eventually blocking blood flow, which can lead to heart disease. When a doctor tests your blood for cholesterol levels, the more LDL there is, the higher your risk for heart disease.

Meditation: A relaxation technique that involves clearing the mind and focusing your attention on your breath, physical sensations, or a single repeated word or phrase (sometimes called a mantra). Research shows that regular meditation curbs stress and might help lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

Mindfulness: The practice of living in the moment and focusing all of your attention on the present experience (in other words, not thinking about what's on your to-do list while you’re eating a quick lunch at your desk). Studies have found many health benefits to practicing mindfulness, including stress reduction, which in turn can lower blood pressure and make heart disease less likely.

Monounsaturated fat: A type of healthy fat that’s found in foods such as nuts and avocados and oils such as olive and canola. Studies show that replacing foods in your diet that have saturated fat with foods that have unsaturated fat can help lower cholesterol levels and make heart disease less likely.

Omega-3 fatty acids: A type of healthy polyunsaturated fat that you need for many different bodily functions. It helps protect against heart disease and stroke. Human bodies can't make omega-3s. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, found in flaxseed, soybean and canola oils, and some green vegetables like kale and spinach; and DHA and EPA, found in fatty fish.

Plaque (in your heart's arteries): A buildup of fat, cholesterol, and calcium that lines your arteries over time. It can decrease the flow of blood to your organs.

Polyunsaturated fat: A type of healthy fat found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and oils such as corn, soybean, and safflower. Studies show that replacing foods in your diet that have saturated fat with foods that contain unsaturated fat can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease.

Saturated fat: An unhealthy type of fat found in foods such as red meat, poultry, and dairy products. Research shows that saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Sodium: An essential nutrient found in many foods and table salt. Sodium helps your muscles and nerve cells work and controls your blood pressure. Only a little is needed. Too much sodium in your body can cause high blood pressure and bloating. The daily recommended limit for sodium is 2,300 milligrams (equal to one teaspoon of table salt). If you have high blood pressure or other health problems, your doctor will likely recommend even less.

Strength training: A type of exercise that uses resistance to build muscles and increase their strength. Examples include doing pushups, lifting weights, and working with resistance bands. Strength training can help control your weight and lower the risk of heart disease.

Stress management: Things you can do that help lower your anxiety and stress levels. Examples include meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and laughter.

Trans fat: A type of unhealthy fat that’s created through a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. It’s often found in store-bought cookies, crackers, cakes, and many fried foods. Experts consider it to be one of the worst fats, because it raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease. Avoid trans fats as much as possible.

Triglycerides: Your body turns any extra calories that it doesn’t use into a type of fat called triglycerides, which it stores in your fat cells. A high level of triglycerides makes heart disease more likely.

Unsaturated fat: A type of healthy fat found in many foods such as avocados, nuts, and oils like olive and canola. Unsaturated fat is broken down into two types: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Show Sources


Cleveland Clinic: “Aerobic Exercise.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What is the DASH Eating Plan?” “What is Atherosclerosis?”

Science Daily: “Aerobic Exercise.”

Psychology Today: “Mindfulness.”

Rubenfire, M. “Journal Scan Summary”: Stone, N. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online Nov. 12, 2013.

Harvard School of Public Health: “Fiber.”

Medline Plus: “Fiber,” “High blood pressure,” “Sodium in Diet.”

Mayo Clinic: “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet,” “HDL cholesterol: How to boost your 'good' cholesterol,” “Cholesterol levels: What numbers should you aim for?” “High blood pressure,” “Triglycerides: Why do they matter?” “Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, and Healthier,” “Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health,” “Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress,” “Dietary Fats: Know Which Ones to Choose.”

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Meditation: An Introduction."

American Psychological Association: “What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Foods and Food Components to Reduce.”

American Heart Association: “What is Stress Management?”

CDC: “Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats,” "Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate."

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