4. Quit smoking

If you smoke, stop. Quitting may 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. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked.

5. Drink alcohol only in moderation

Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren't strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn't already drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.

If lifestyle changes aren't enough ...

Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower cholesterol levels. Make sure the changes you choose to make are ones that you can continue, and don't be disappointed if you don't see results immediately. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed, but continue your lifestyle changes.

Sep. 06, 2012 See more In-depth