Top 5 lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol
Lifestyle changes can help to improve your cholesterol, and boost the cholesterol-lowering power of medications.
High cholesterol increases your risk of heart attacks and heart disease. Medications can help to improve your cholesterol. But if you had rather first make lifestyle changes to improve your cholesterol, try these five healthy changes.
If you are already taking medications, these changes can improve their cholesterol-lowering effect.
- Eat heart-healthy foods
A few changes in your diet can reduce the cholesterol and improve your heart health:
- Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in full-fat dairy products, red meat and raise your total cholesterol. Decreasing your consumption of the saturated fats can reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats, sometimes listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” are often used in store-bought cookies, margarines and crackers and cakes. Trans fats raise the overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from Jan. 1, 2021.
- Eat foods rich in the omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect the LDL cholesterol. But they have other heart-healthy benefits, including and reducing blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, herring, mackerel, walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce absorption of the cholesterol into your bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in such foods as kidney beans, oatmeal, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein, which is found in dairy products, may account for many of the health benefits attributed to the dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both the LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
- Exercise on the most days of a week and increase your physical activity
Exercise can improve your cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help to raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise five times in a week or vigorous aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
Adding physical activity, even in short intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose your weight. Consider:
- Taking a brisk daily walk during your lunch hours.
- Riding your bike to work
- Playing a favorite sport
To stay motivated, consider finding an exercise buddy / joining the exercise group.
- Quit smoking
Quitting smoking improves the HDL cholesterol level. The benefits occur quickly:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure recover from the cigarette-induced spike
- Within three months of quitting, your lung function and blood circulation begin to improve
- Within a year of quitting, your risk of heart disease is half that of smoker.
- Lose weight
Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to the high cholesterol. Small changes add up. If you drink sugary beverages regularly, switch to tap water. Snack on pretzels or air-popped popcorn— but keep track of the calories. If you crave something sweet, try candies or sherbet with little or no fat, such as jelly beans.
Look for ways to incorporate the more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office. Take walks during breaks at work. Try to increase standing activities, such as cooking or doing yardwork.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with the higher levels of HDL cholesterol, but the benefits aren’t strong enough to recommend the alcohol for 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 men older than age 65 and women of all ages, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Too much alcohol can lead to the serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and strokes.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough …
Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to the lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed while the continuing your lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can help you to keep your medication dose low.