5 Lifestyle Changes to Lower Cholesterol
Cholesterol is essential for your body to function, but too much can lead to serious health problems. Healthy fats, omega-3 rich foods, soluble fiber and exercise can help lower cholesterol levels.
Avoid consuming foods with trans fats and limit saturated fats found in meat, butter and full-fat dairy products. Choose lean meats, fish, eggs, legumes and whole grains.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
You can significantly reduce your cholesterol by eating a heart-healthy diet. This includes cutting saturated fats (found mainly in red meat, sausage, full-fat dairy and butter) and including more fiber, fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein, beans and unsalted nuts.
Include omega-3 fatty acids from fish like salmon and tuna (canned or fresh), which can raise good “HDL” cholesterol. Aim for two servings a week.
Also add foods containing plant sterols, which can lower your LDL cholesterol by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in your digestive tract. You can find these in many foods, such as avocado, olive oil, seeds and soy products.
2. Go Vegetarian
A heart-healthy diet that’s mostly plant-based can help lower cholesterol and improve your overall heart health. It can also help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and increase levels of good HDL cholesterol, which helps minimize your risk of stroke.
Studies have shown that vegetarian Adventists, in particular, have significantly lower cholesterol than non-Adventists, as well as lower rates of diabetes and high blood pressure. The key to a largely plant-based diet is to avoid saturated fats found in meat and full-fat dairy. Instead, choose foods that are rich in soluble fiber (found in beans, barley, oats and psyllium), as well as omega-3 fatty acids from fish and vegetable oils like olive and canola. Also avoid foods with added trans fats, which are often called hydrogenated oils and found in products such as refrigerated pizza dough, microwave popcorn and some brands of margarine.
3. Get Moving
Exercise helps reduce cholesterol levels, and is especially effective if you engage in cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening activities. Cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging or cycling, burns calories and improves “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Lifting weights (or resistance training) strengthens muscles and lowers total cholesterol.
Incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, and work up to more intense exercise, such as jogging or swimming laps. Choose a form of exercise you enjoy, and find a buddy to help motivate you. It’s also important to get enough sleep. This improves mood and enables the body to better use cholesterol-lowering medications, if you’re taking them.
4. Eliminate Smoking
Cholesterol is a waxy substance the body needs to build cell membranes, but too much can lead to fatty deposits in the arteries (also called plaque). While genetics and some medications play a role, dietary and exercise choices are key.
Smoking increases your risk for heart disease and raises levels of LDL cholesterol — the “bad” kind that clings to artery walls, leading to a build-up of plaque. It also lowers HDL cholesterol, which takes cholesterol from artery walls and helps prevent plaque from forming. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and eliminating smoking are the first steps to lowering your cholesterol. If those don’t help, speak to your health care provider about cholesterol-lowering medications. Taking these steps can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions.
5. Get Enough Sleep
While cholesterol supports many vital bodily functions, high levels are linked to heart disease. Medication is the most common treatment for high cholesterol, but simple lifestyle and dietary changes can also decrease the risk of heart disease.
For example, a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low fat dairy, nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce LDL and increase HDL cholesterol levels. And replacing fatty red meat with fish like salmon or mackerel can lower triglyceride levels as well as cholesterol.
Getting enough sleep is also important. Studies have shown that people who get poor quality sleep (or even a good amount of sleep but not enough rest) are more likely to have high cholesterol levels and develop other health problems such as sleep apnea.