5 Lifestyle Changes to Lower Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health

5 Lifestyle Changes to Lower Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease and diabetes. It can be lowered with lifestyle changes, even without medication.

Healthy fats, like those found in avocado, nuts and olive oil; soluble fiber (like from beans and peas); exercise, weight loss and quitting smoking can all help lower your cholesterol.

1. Eat a Healthy Diet

The type of food you eat has an impact on your cholesterol levels. You should eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, especially dark green and red vegetables, plus whole grains (3 or more servings per day).

Limit saturated fats (found in animal fats like butter and lard) and trans fats, which raise your LDL “bad” cholesterol. Instead, eat heart-healthy fats such as those found in olive and canola oils, as well as nuts.

Add pulses (beans and lentils) to your diet, as they are high in fiber and protein. Also include fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which don’t affect your cholesterol) and other low-fat sources of lean protein, such as poultry without skin, eggs, soy products and unsalted nuts.

2. Move More

Incorporating more physical activity in your life can help lower cholesterol levels. Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Brisk walking, jogging, cycling and swimming are some good options.

Including more fiber in your diet can also lower your cholesterol. Fiber works by binding dietary cholesterol and fat, which helps remove them from your body. Try adding whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans to your diet.

High cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to improve your cholesterol, talk to your doctor about taking medication. Medications can be used in combination with healthy lifestyle choices to reduce your risk even further.

3. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep on most nights helps to keep your cholesterol levels in check. This is because poor sleeping habits are linked to higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which increase your risk of heart disease.

Try to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to lower your cholesterol. This can be achieved by choosing low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese; selecting lean meats (beef, pork and chicken), fish and beans; and adding more vegetables, whole grains, nuts and unsalted, unrefined oils that use healthy fats (like olive oil or canola oil).

Avoid foods that contain saturated and trans-fat. These include butter, fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, cakes and cookies, fried foods, and food that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (check ingredients). Choose non-fat or low-fat milk and yoghurts; cook using olive or canola oil, and select low-fat margarines instead of those with added sugar.

4. Limit Alcohol Consumption

Drinking too much alcohol is associated with high cholesterol levels. Alcohol can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol and increase triglycerides. It can also cause other health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity and liver disease. Drinking alcohol can also make it more difficult for your liver to remove cholesterol from your body.

Some studies have shown that drinking red wine in moderation (one glass of wine a day for women and two for men) can improve your lipid profile and triglyceride levels, but more research is needed. However, a healthier diet and lifestyle, such as limiting alcohol consumption, controlling high blood pressure, losing weight, getting plenty of physical activity and staying away from tobacco are more important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

5. Stop Smoking

Smoking increases levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and blood fats called triglycerides. These can build up in the arteries, blocking blood and oxygen flow and increasing your risk of heart disease.

Quitting smoking has immediate benefits for your heart health. Within 20 minutes of putting down that last cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate begin to drop. Within 2 to 3 weeks, your LDL levels start to go down. Within a year, your risk of a heart attack is half that of someone who never smoked.

Smoking also worsens the effect of other risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and diabetes. Having multiple risk factors acts like a double-whammy on your body. Smoking decreases HDL, or “good,” cholesterol and impairs its ability to remove LDL from the arteries.

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