Best Lifestyle Changes for Lowering Your Cholesterol
We hear about cholesterol in TV advertisements, see it noted on food labels, and our doctors check our levels at physicals. But what do you actually know about cholesterol? Cholesterol is essential for your body’s proper functioning, so it’s not all bad. High cholesterol levels, however, can lead to serious health problems like heart disease and stroke. If you suffer from chronic diseases, taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle is vital, and lowering your cholesterol is a great way to start tackling that. In this article, we’ll answer what exactly cholesterol is and some of the best lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your cholesterol and improve your overall health.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of waxy, fat-like substance produced by the liver and found in the foods we eat. It is essential for the proper functioning of our body, but high cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol” because it helps remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream, reducing the risk of heart disease. On the other hand, LDL is referred to as “bad cholesterol” because it can build up in the walls of the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Maintaining a healthy balance of both types of cholesterol is essential for overall heart health.
A Heart-Healthy Diet
The food labels are correct; one of the best ways to lower cholesterol levels is by eating a heart-healthy diet. The ideal, good-cholesterol diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and snacks. Some foods that you should prioritize in your diet include:
- Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
- Fish, such as salmon and mackerel
- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale
Physical activity is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your risk of heart disease. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week. We’re not saying you have to hit the gym; it can include brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. This will help in lowering your cholesterol levels and improving your overall health. Here are some tips to get started!
If you are a chronic smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease (and a host of other medical issues) and raises your cholesterol levels. You may be wondering how. A brief explanation is that the chemicals in cigarette smoke can interfere with the normal functioning of the liver, which is responsible for producing and regulating cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
Limit Alcohol Intake
Excessive alcohol consumption can raise your cholesterol levels, so doctors recommend limiting your alcohol intake. Alcohol impairs liver function and, thus, the liver’s ability to produce bile and remove cholesterol from the bloodstream. The result? An increase in the levels of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. If you drink alcohol, aim for no more than one drink a day for women and two glasses a day for men.
If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower your cholesterol levels, decreasing inflammation, and improving insulin sensitivity. Both of these points will help reduce the production of cholesterol in the liver and generally improve liver function, which can reduce the production of LDL cholesterol and increase the elimination of cholesterol from the bloodstream. Aim to lose weight gradually through a combination of diet and exercise. This will help lower your cholesterol levels, improve your overall health, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.
These lifestyle changes may seem overwhelming to read in one sitting, but making a few good changes daily will significantly reduce your cholesterol and overall health. By eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, and losing weight, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and improve your quality of life. If you have any questions about these lifestyle changes or want to learn more about lowering your cholesterol levels, speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Need to connect with a doctor? Our directory has over 850 doctors in various medical specialties ready to provide quality care to you and your family. For other tips on improving your cholesterol and overall health, visit our Healthy Lifestyles page.