If you have high cholesterol, making healthy lifestyle changes can be an intimidating task. There are many medications available that are effective at lowering cholesterol levels, but making the switch to healthier habits is always the best place to get started. The following recommendations can help reduce your cholesterol levels and improve your overall health.
Regular physical activity not only lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, it can also boost “good” HDL cholesterol. Even moderate exercise, like taking a brisk after-dinner walk, can yield positive results. Just a 45-minute walk daily can have an appreciable impact on cholesterol levels. If you prefer to spread your physical activity out over the course of the day, a pedometer is a great way to track your progress and hold yourself accountable. 10,000 steps a day is a good target to shoot for. If you have a sedentary job, getting up from your desk and walking around for a few minutes every hour can help you stay on top your daily physical activity goal. No matter how you choose to exercise, be sure to do it regularly. Carving out time for physical activity at least 5 days a week is an attainable objective for most people.
Steer clear of saturated fat
In the past, prevailing wisdom dictated that the key to cutting high cholesterol was to curb consumption of eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods. Today, decades of research have revealed that dietary cholesterol isn’t the villain that it was once made out to be. In fact, recent data suggest that saturated fat is the true culprit behind high cholesterol. Limiting saturated fat in your diet is a step in the right direction, as is making the switch to “smart fats”: canola or olive oil are recommended substitutes for butter, stick margarine, vegetable oil, shortening or lard. Margarine-like spreads containing cholesterol-lowering plant compounds called stanols are another heart-healthy option.
Opt for omega-3s
Fish are packed with cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines and bluefish contain the highest doses of omega-3s. Even canned tuna, a portable and wallet-friendly option, can help you meet the recommended guidelines (look for low-sodium or “no salt added” varieties). Omega-3s can also be found in plant sources, like soybeans, canola, flax seeds and walnuts.
Increase your fiber intake
Upping your daily intake of dietary fiber is an excellent way to lower cholesterol and protect heart health. Specifically, sponge-like soluble fiber can help lower “bad” LDL levels by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables contain plenty of fiber as well as heart-healthy antioxidants. Try to eat a variety of deeply colored fruits and veggies, at least 4-5 servings a day. Vegetables high in soluble fiber include beets, brussels sprouts, carrots, leafy greens, eggplant, okra and sweet potatoes. Some fiber-rich fruit choices are apples, apricots, berries, nectarines, oranges, passion fruit and pears. Whole grains, dried beans and psyllium-based supplements are another great way to add soluble fiber to your diet.
Say no to smoking
Smoking lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol that is responsible for picking up excess cholesterol in your blood and transporting it to the liver where it can be broken down. Lower HDL numbers increase the likelihood of developing damaged blood vessels and blood clots — all factors that put you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke. Kicking the habit can boost HDL levels and help protect you from heart disease.