In both men and women, blood cholesterol starts going up after age 20. In men, it starts to decrease slightly at the age of about 65. Whether you are male or female, as you get older your risk for heart disease increases dramatically. For instance, a 62-year-old man is 500 times more likely than a 22-year-old man to die of heart disease in the next year.

Until age 45, men tend to have higher total cholesterol levels than women do, and women tend to have higher HDL levels. Heart experts at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say that men in their 40s are four times more likely to die from heart disease than are women the same age.

However, as time goes on, the statistics for women change. After menopause, a woman's LDL level tends to go up, and her HDL level goes down. Also, her risk of heart disease continues to rise with age. After menopause, women tend to have higher LDL levels than do men of the same age.