More than one-third of adults in the United States — or about 71 million Americans — have unhealthy cholesterol levels. Although you can’t feel the day-to-day effects high cholesterol has on your body, allowing the problem to go untreated essentially doubles your risk of developing heart disease.
If you have high cholesterol levels, it means there’s too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” kind, circulating in your blood. LDL cholesterol is what accumulates on the walls of your arteries and makes them hard and inflexible. Your cholesterol levels can also be unhealthy if you have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” kind that picks up excess blood cholesterol and carries it back to your liver for processing and removal from your body.
Finding out you have high cholesterol is the first step in getting it under control. Fortunately, this highly treatable condition can often be reversed with a few strategic lifestyle changes.
In recognition of National Cholesterol Education Month, there’s no time like the present to start adopting healthier habits. Here’s how you can get your numbers back in line.
1. Switch to a heart-healthy diet
Making the switch to a heart-healthy diet — or one that’s low in sodium and saturated fat and rich in dietary fiber and plant-based unsaturated fats — is one of the most effective ways to get your cholesterol levels back where you want them to be.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fatty fish, poultry, nuts, and seeds form the foundation of a heart-healthy diet. Although simply increasing your intake of dietary fiber can go a long way in helping you achieve healthy cholesterol levels, eating foods that contain high levels of soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, beans, peas, and lentils, can have the most drastic impact.
2. Limit unhealthy foods
Just as poor dietary choices often contribute to the development of high cholesterol, avoiding or limiting unhealthy foods can help restore normal cholesterol levels. This means avoiding trans fats whenever possible and keeping your saturated fat intake low (about 5% of your daily calories.)
To cut back on trans fats, skip margarines and other food products that are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. To reduce your intake of saturated fat, eat less red meat and fewer full-fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
3. Stay physically active
Because a sedentary lifestyle promotes unhealthy cholesterol levels, getting off the couch is one of the best ways to reverse the trend. Being physically active provides a variety of health benefits, ranging from improved strength, flexibility, and endurance to better weight control. It also fosters a healthier blood lipid profile by reducing LDL cholesterol levels and raising HDL cholesterol levels.
Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. Although brisk walking is an ideal workout for most beginners, Dr. Landfield can help you develop a more complete exercise plan that takes your overall health, current fitness level, and future wellness goals into account.
4. Maintain a healthy body weight
Carrying a substantial amount of excess weight can impact your body’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood efficiently. Besides contributing to unhealthy cholesterol levels, being overweight or obese also increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, the main lifestyle strategies for reducing high cholesterol — including adopting a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active — can also help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Simply losing 5-10% of your body weight is often all it takes to see an improvement in your cholesterol levels.
5. Manage your stress levels
Research shows that chronic stress can have a pronounced negative effect on your cholesterol levels. When you feel intense emotional strain or mental pressure on a regular basis, your LDL cholesterol levels are more likely to go up, and your HDL cholesterol levels are more likely to drop.
Determine the main sources of stress in your life and find concrete ways to alleviate tension or prevent it. Keeping a journal, getting regular exercise, and listening to music are just a few strategies that can help you feel more centered and relaxed.
6. Quit smoking
You already know that smoking can produce many negative health effects, but did you know that high cholesterol is one of them? Smoking contributes to high LDL cholesterol levels by lowering your HDL cholesterol levels. Quitting cigarettes helps restore your HDL levels, which in turn helps lower your LDL levels. It’s a win-win.
7. Don’t drink too much alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol — or more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women — can raise your cholesterol levels and your triglyceride levels. Having high triglyceride levels along with high LDL cholesterol levels (or low HDL cholesterol levels) increases your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. To encourage a healthier blood lipid profile all around, drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it completely.
To learn other ways you can keep your cholesterol levels under control, call our Greenbrae, California office today, or use the easy online tool to schedule a visit with Dr. Landfield any time.
CDC: Cholesterol Facts
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: High Blood Cholesterol
Mayo Clinic: High Cholesterol
Mayo Clinic: Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cholesterol
American Heart Association: Prevention and Treatment of High Cholesterol