5 Lifestyle Changes to Lower Your Cholesterol

By

Kelli Miller    

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If you have high cholesterol, you run the risk of your arteries having a hard time moving blood throughout your body, including your heart and brain. That's because cholesterol is a type of fat. Your body naturally makes its own supply of cholesterol. Another source of cholesterol is from the foods you eat.

Too much cholesterol circulating in your blood can form deposits, called plaque. Plaque collects along the layers of the artery walls, making them stiff and inflexible. Blood doesn't flow smoothly, and eventually a total blockage can occur. Also, a piece of plaque can break off, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Although many people with high cholesterol take medication to lower it and keep cholesterol in a healthier range, statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs don’t work for everyone. The good news is that lifestyle changes can be quite effective at lowering cholesterol.

Start with these five simple tips to keep your cholesterol low and your heart healthy:

1. Eat Your Veggies

Mom was right. You need to eat your veggies. A diet rich in fruits and veggies is always a healthy choice. The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in these items along with whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy foods, poultry, and fish.

2. Choose the Right Fats

Not all fat is bad for you, but you need to know good from bad fat:  

Say NO to trans fats. These unhealthy fats are what make doughnuts and packaged cookies tasty, but they create a risky cholesterol combo that leads to heart disease, stroke, even diabetes. Trans fats cause your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol to jump and your high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol to take a nosedive.

Want to see if your food contains this cholesterol killer? Check the label for the phrase "partially hydrogenated oils." Also, note: In the United States, foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving may be labeled as trans fat free. Those small quantities add-up quickly. Instead, look for products that claim ‘No trans fats. ’

Say NO to saturated fats. These heart-harming fats are found mostly in animal products like red meat. But they are also in lamb, pork, poultry skin, and whole or 2% dairy products like butter, cream and cheese. To lower your cholesterol or maintain it in a heart-healthy range, you want less than 5 to 6% of your total calories a day to come from these bad fats. Sneaky sources of saturated fat include coconut, palm oil (or tropical oils), and cocoa butter.

Say YES to omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats actually lower your triglyceride levels. If you have a high triglyceride level and a low HDL or high LDL level, fatty deposits (plaque) are more likely to build up in your arteries. Find omega-3s in olive oil and certain types of fish, like salmon and mackerel. Walnuts and almonds contain these beneficial fats, too. The American Heart Association suggests adding two servings of fatty fish (3.5 oz) to your meal plan each week.  

If you can’t tolerate fish or nuts, talk with your doctor about adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to your diet.

3. Eat More Fiber

Turns out, the old adage is true. Beans, beans—they are good for your heart! Beans are chock full of soluble fiber, which is known to help lower your LDL cholesterol. Foods like beans, lentils, oats and even apples contain this healthy ingredient and are great for managing your cholesterol and your blood sugar, too.

4. Get a Move On

Exercise is always a healthy idea. Studies show it helps boost your good (HDL) cholesterol, which means you'll lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise guidelines vary, but the American Heart Association says you should aim for 40 minutes of heart-pumping (aerobic) exercise about 3 to 4 times a week. Another general guideline is 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Do what works best for your schedule.

You'll want a moderate-to-intense workout, so try something like swimming, biking or dancing. Going for a brisk walk is a good choice, too. It will get your heart pumping! Remember: always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have a history of heart problems.

5. Steer Clear of Tobacco

It bears repeating: If you smoke, make every effort to quit. Smoking leads to drops in your good cholesterol and spikes in the bad stuff. It's never too late to stop. The benefits to the body begin immediately. Within 20 minutes, your heart works better. If you don’t smoke, make sure you stay away from those who do. More and more research shows that just breathing in the smoke of passersby (secondhand smoke) causes changes in your arteries linked to heart disease. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 28, 2017

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