Lifestyle changes can help improve your cholesterol levels. In addition, certain foods clearly contribute to the lowering of cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease and heart attack. If you want to change your lifestyle to improve your cholesterol, try these five healthy changes.
- 1 1. Exercise most days of the week and increase your physical activity.
- 2 2. Quit smoking
- 3 3. Lose weight
- 4 4. Drink alcohol only in moderation
- 5 5 Eat heart-healthy foods
- 6 Zoom on the best foods that improve your cholesterol and protect your heart
1. Exercise most days of the week and increase your physical activity.
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s approval, increase to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times per week or 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three times per week.
Adding physical activity, even in small intervals several times a day, can help you start losing weight. Think about it:
Take a daily brisk walk during your lunch hour.
Cycling to work
Practice a favorite sport
To stay motivated, consider finding an exercise buddy or joining an exercise group.
2. Quit smoking
Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol levels. The beneficial effects are rapid:
Within 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the spike caused by smoking.
Within three months of quitting smoking, your blood circulation and lung function begin to improve.
Within a year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease is halved of that of a smoker.
3. Lose weight
Putting on a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol. The small changes add up. If you drink sugary drinks, opt for tap water. Snack on popcorn or pretzels, but watch the calorie count. If you crave sweets, try sorbets or candies with little or no fat, such as jelly beans. Look for ways to fit more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther from your desk. Take walks during breaks at work. Try increasing standing activities, such as cooking or gardening.
4. Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol, but the benefits aren’t strong enough to recommend alcohol to anyone who doesn’t already drink. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men over 65, and up to two drinks a day for men 65 and under. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough…
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed while continuing to make lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can help you maintain a low dose of medication.
5 Eat heart-healthy foods
A few changes in your diet can lower cholesterol and improve your heart health. Zoom in on the foods to avoid and the best foods to improve your numbers.
– Reduce saturated fat
Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol. By decreasing your intake of saturated fat, you can lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. By reducing your intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily calorie intake, you can reduce your LDL cholesterol by 8-10%.
– Eliminate trans fats
Trans fats, which are sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” are often used in margarines and store-bought cookies and cakes. Trans fats increase overall cholesterol levels.
Diet can play an important role in lowering your cholesterol.
Zoom on the best foods that improve your cholesterol and protect your heart
Can a bowl of oatmeal help lower your cholesterol? How about a handful of almonds? A few simple changes to your diet, along with exercise and other heart-healthy habits, can help lower your cholesterol.
Rolled oats, oat bran and high fiber foods
Oat flakes contain soluble fiber, which lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in foods such as kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the blood. Five to ten grams or more of soluble fiber per day lowers LDL cholesterol levels. One serving of a breakfast cereal made with oatmeal or oat bran provides 3 to 4 grams of fiber. If you add a fruit, like a banana or berries, you’ll get even more fiber.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids
Oily fish contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, as well as your blood pressure and risk of blood clots. In people who have already had a heart attack, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids have no effect on LDL cholesterol levels. But because of the other heart benefits of these acids, it is recommended that you eat at least two servings of fish per week. Cooking or grilling fish avoids adding unhealthy fats.
The highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids are found in:
Foods such as walnuts, flax seeds and canola oil also contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
There are omega-3 and fish oil supplements. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Almonds and other nuts
Almonds and other tree nuts can improve blood cholesterol levels. A recent study concluded that a diet supplemented with nuts may reduce the risk of heart complications in people with a history of heart attack. All nuts are high in calories, so a handful added to a salad or eaten as a snack is enough.
Avocados are an important source of nutrients and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Research suggests that adding one avocado daily to a heart-healthy diet may help improve LDL cholesterol levels in people who are overweight or obese. People tend to know avocados in guacamole, which is usually eaten with high-fat corn chips. Try adding sliced avocado to salads and sandwiches or eating them as a side dish. Also try guacamole with raw cut vegetables, such as sliced cucumbers. Replacing saturated fats, like those found in meats, with MUFAs is part of what makes the Mediterranean diet heart-healthy.
Try using olive oil in place of other fats in your diet. You can sauté vegetables in olive oil, add it to a marinade, or mix it with vinegar to dress a salad. You can also use olive oil to replace butter when drizzling meat or for dipping bread.
Foods fortified with plant sterols or stanols
Sterols and stanols are substances found in plants that help block the absorption of cholesterol. There are foods fortified with sterols or stanols.
Margarines and orange juice with added plant sterols can help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Adding 2 grams of sterols to your diet each day can lower your LDL cholesterol by 5-15%. It is uncertain whether foods containing plant sterols or stanols reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, although experts assume that foods that lower cholesterol reduce the risk. Plant sterols or stanols do not appear to affect levels of triglycerides or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.
Whey protein, found in dairy products, may be responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy products. Studies have shown that whey protein taken in supplement form reduces LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, as well as lowers blood pressure. You can find whey protein powder at health food stores and some grocery stores.