You've been diagnosed with high cholesterol.. now what? The biggest problem from high cholesterol is that it joins with other risk factors to impact your overall risk of heart disease. People with high cholesterol are more often likely to experience a coronary event such as a heart attack. A few fairly simple lifestyle changes can both correct your cholesterol and positively impact your heart health.
Lifestyle changes that can lower your cholesterol
Even if your cholesterol is primarily caused by genetics, a healthier lifestyle can help your cholesterol levels and goes a long way towards improving your heart health. If you have high cholesterol, your doctor is most likely to talk to you about the following four lifestyle changes:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Avoiding tobacco smoke
- Losing weight (if you're overweight or obese)
Make better choices at the dinner table
The foods you eat carry a direct impact on your cholesterol levels. If you don't already read food labels, now is the time to start. And the first thing you should be looking for are lower amounts of saturated fat and trans fat. Reducing those types of fats have been shown to have the greatest impact on your cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting fat to 5-6 percent of daily caloric intake and minimizing the amount of trans fat you eat.
To get serious about reducing these fats, you'll want to cut back on red meat - choose poultry or fish instead. Stay away from whole fat dairy products, opting for skim milk, low-fat or fat-free dairy. Limit your intake of fried foods and sugary foods and beverages. Look for ways to increase natural fiber in your diet by increasing fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. A diet high in fiber can help lower cholesterol levels by as much as 10 percent.
A quick trip to your local library or search on the Internet will show you many recipes that fit in a heart healthy diet.
Simply put, a lifestyle that doesn't include physical activity a few times a week encourages bad things to happen with your cholesterol. Inactivity lowers HDL cholesterol - also known as the good cholesterol. Less HDL cholesterol means there's less good cholesterol to remove LDL (bad) cholesterol from arteries. If you're not active currently, talk to your doctor about the best way to start an exercise program for you. You should be building up to the American Heart Association's recommendation of at least 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise three to four times a week. Walking vigorously, swimming, riding your bike, or taking a dance class are all great ways to get active and improve your health.
Just like a sedentary lifestyle, smoking lowers the good cholesterol which means the bad cholesterol is on the rise. While smoking is bad for your health in many ways, a person with high cholesterol who also smokes, dramatically increases their risk of coronary heart disease. Smoking compounds risk from other risk factors for heart disease, too, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Being overweight or obese tends to raise the bad LDL cholesterol and lower the good HDL cholesterol. Just dropping 10 percent of your body weight can lower your risk of high cholesterol and sometimes even reverses it.
Lifestyle changes are rarely easy to make. They require setting new habits and the positive benefits rarely happen overnight. Enlisting the help of your family and friends can help you to stick to these new, healthier habits. Go for a walk each morning with your spouse. Invite a friend on a Saturday morning bike ride. Start a healthy supper club where you and friends take turns hosting dinners for each other. These lifestyle changes are worth the effort to get started and stick to them. Remember: if you can lower your cholesterol, you can also lower your risk of having a heart attack - that's something everyone can get behind.