The 5 most important lifestyle changes to improve cholesterol levels
Lifestyle changes can help improve your cholesterol level and increase the cholesterol-lowering power of medications.
High cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Medications can help improve your cholesterol level. But if you prefer to make changes in your lifestyle to enhance values first, try these five healthy changes.
If you already take medication, these changes may improve your effect of lowering cholesterol levels.
1. Eat heart-healthy foods
A few changes in the diet can reduce cholesterol and improve the health of your heart:
- Reduce saturated fats. Saturated fats, found mainly in red meat and whole dairy products, increase total cholesterol. Decreasing the intake of saturated fats can reduce 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 margarine and cookies, crackers, and store-bought cakes. Trans fats raise overall cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as of January 1, 2021.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids do not affect LDL cholesterol. But they have other benefits for heart health, including lowering blood pressure. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, herring, nuts, and flax seeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as oats, beans, Brussels sprouts, apples, and pears.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein, found in dairy products, may be responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy products. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement reduces both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, as well as blood pressure.
2. Exercise most days of the week and increase your physical activity
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help increase high-density lipoproteins (HDL cholesterol), the “good” cholesterol. With your doctor’s approval, do at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week or intense aerobic activity for 20 minutes three times a week.
Adding physical activity, even at short intervals several times a day can help you start losing weight. Considers:
- Take a quick walk during lunchtime, every day
- Cycle to work
- Play your favorite sport
To stay motivated, keep in mind that you can find a physical activity partner or join an exercise group.
3. Stop smoking
Quitting smoking improves the level of HDL cholesterol. The benefits come quickly:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting smoking, blood pressure and heart rate recover from the cigarette-induced peak.
- Three months after quitting, blood circulation and lung function begin to improve.
- Within a year of quitting smoking, the risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.
4. Lose weight
Having a few extra kilos, even if they are few, contributes to high cholesterol. Small changes add up. If you drink sugary drinks, replace it with tap water. Eat popcorn or pretzels as a snack, but keep track of calories. If you fancy something sweet, try sorbets or sweets with little or no fat, such as gummies.
Find ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking further from your office. Walk during work breaks. Try to do more standing activities, such as cooking or doing garden work.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation
Moderate alcohol consumption was linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol, but the benefits are not convincing enough to recommend alcohol consumption to someone who does not drink it.
If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, this means up to one drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65, and up to two drinks per day for men under 65.
Too much alcohol can cause serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
If lifestyle changes are not enough
Sometimes, changes in lifestyle are not enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends cholesterol-lowering medications, take them as prescribed while continuing with changes in your lifestyle. Lifestyle changes can help you keep the dose of the medicine low.