Lifestyle changes are essential to improve your cholesterol level. To bring your numbers down, lose excess weight, eat healthy foods and increase your physical activity. If you smoke, quit.
Lose extra pounds
Excess weight contributes to high cholesterol. Losing even 5 to 10 pounds can help lower total cholesterol levels. Start by taking an honest look at your eating habits and daily routine. Consider your challenges to weight loss — and ways to overcome them. Set long-term, sustainable goals.
Eat heart-healthy foods
What you eat has a direct impact on your cholesterol level. In fact, a diet rich in fiber and other cholesterol-lowering foods may help lower cholesterol as much as statin medication for some people.
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fat and trans fat raise your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Get no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. Monounsaturated fat — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — is a healthier option. Almonds and walnuts are other sources of healthy fat.
Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats, which are often found in margarines and commercially baked cookies, crackers and snack cakes, are particularly bad for your cholesterol levels. Not only do trans fats increase your total LDL ("bad") cholesterol, but they also lower your HDL ("good") cholesterol.
You may have noticed more food labels now market their products as "trans fat-free." But don't rely only on this label. In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat a serving, it can be marked trans fat-free. It may not seem like much, but if you eat a lot of foods with a small amount of trans fat, it can add up quickly. Instead, read the ingredients list. If a food contains a partially hydrogenated oil, that's a trans fat, and you should look for an alternative.
- Limit your dietary cholesterol. Aim for no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day — or less than 200 mg if you have heart disease. The most concentrated sources of cholesterol include organ meats, egg yolks and whole milk products. Use lean cuts of meat, egg substitutes and skim milk instead.
- Select whole grains. Various nutrients found in whole grains promote heart health. Choose whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat flour and brown rice. Oatmeal and oat bran are other good choices.
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. Snack on seasonal fruits. Experiment with vegetable-based casseroles, soups and stir-fries.
- Eat heart-healthy fish. Some types of fish — such as cod, tuna and halibut — have less total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than do meat and poultry. Salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote heart health.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate use of alcohol may increase your levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren't strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn't drink already. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation. This means no more than one drink a day for women and one to two drinks a day for men.
Regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol levels. With your doctor's OK, work up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. To maintain your motivation, keep it fun. Find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group. And, you don't need to get all 30 to 60 minutes in one exercise session. If you can squeeze in three to six 10-minute intervals of exercise, you'll still get some cholesterol-lowering benefits.
If you smoke, stop. Quitting can improve your HDL cholesterol level. And the benefits don't end there. Just 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure decreases. Within 24 hours, your risk of a heart attack decreases. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker's. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to that of someone who's never smoked.
Feb. 12, 2013
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