Alan’s annual work physical went pretty well. He passed all the tests with flying colors, except for his blood cholesterol levels. His LDL (bad cholesterol) was slightly high and his HDL (good cholesterol) was lower than normal. Not wanting to go the medication route right away, Alan’s doctor recommended that he improve his diet and incorporate regular exercise to see if that would improve his cholesterol levels. Since Alan had a gym membership anyway, he decided to put it to use. It seemed like a much better choice than taking meds for the rest of his life, after all.
How can I improve my cholesterol?
Positive lifestyle changes can play a direct role in reducing cholesterol levels. Often they are enough to avoid the need for cholesterol medications. So, if your doctor thinks it is possible, here are 9 tips to help you on your way.*
- Eat foods high in dietary fiber: Fiber can help lower cholesterol. So, increase your intake of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
- Limit saturated fats: No more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fat because a diet high in saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels. So limit items high in saturated fat, such as beef, butter, whole milk dairy products, dark meat poultry, poultry skin and tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel oils). Instead, substitute polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, almonds, walnuts and flaxseeds. Unsaturated fats have been found to help lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Avoid trans fats: Trans fats are very bad for your cholesterol levels because they both raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels. They can be found in margarine and many other processed products, especially baked items. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list, that means it has trans fats and you should avoid it.
- Decrease your intake of dietary cholesterol: Limit your cholesterol intake to no more then 300 mg of cholesterol a day and, if you have heart disease, aim for less than 200mg. Only animal products contain cholesterol. Eggs, whole milk products and organ meats are the richest sources.
- Eat fatty fish: Consume fish that are rich in omega-3’s, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, lake trout and herring. Omega-3’s help to lower cholesterol and promote heart health. Plus, fish is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than beef or poultry.
- If overweight, lose weight: Excess body fat can contribute to high cholesterol levels. Plus, being overweight is also a risk factor for heart disease. Losing a little weight, even just a few pounds, can go a long way towards improving your cholesterol levels.
- Drink in moderation: Some studies show that a drink or two of alcohol may increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. However, heavy drinking outweighs the potential health benefits. So, drink only in moderation. That’s no more than 1 drink a day for women and 1-2 drinks a day for men.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking increases total cholesterol levels, decreases HDL levels and is a risk factor for heart disease. So, smokers should consider quitting.
- Exercise regularly: There is strong evidence that regular physical activity can increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels and lower the risk of heart disease. So, go for a brisk walk, a bicycle ride or swim laps regularly and you should notice an improvement in your cholesterol levels.
The bottom line:
If your cholesterol is high, there are steps you can take to try to improve it. Diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes have a direct influence on blood cholesterol levels. So, eat a high fiber, low fat diet and implement a regular exercise program. And the next time you have your cholesterol checked, you may be surprised to find that it is lower!