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How Low Can You Go? Healthy Habits to Reduce Cholesterol

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After dragging yourself to yet another exciting health exam, your doctor looks at your results and casually breaks it to you that your cholesterol is a “bit on the high side.” You do your best to muster a look of shock as you tuck away the evidence: receipts of last night’s donut run and corner store junk food. Your doctor suggests (in the least antagonizing tone possible) some healthy lifestyle changes, but you’re so busy feeling remorse over the list of foods you can no longer eat that you shut down.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone: the CDC reports 73.5 million adults in the US have high cholesterol.1 LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is the bad blood cholesterol that can cause serious health risks. Too much LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream is a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis, the formation of heavy plaque in our arteries. Atherosclerosis increases our risk of heart attack and stroke.2

High cholesterol may be just as much hereditary as it is diet-related, so you can blame your love for steak and potatoes or your luck at the gene pool lottery, but either way, you’ve got to make some changes. Where do you start? According to Harvard Health, we need to focus on lowering LDL cholesterol first and then work on raising HDL, because raising HDL alone has not been proven to protect against heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. Follow these tips and you will be on the right track to raising the good cholesterol and lowering the bad.

1. Make exercise fun, and have fun every day.

As hard as it is to find the time and energy to workout, exercise is crucial for increasing the good cholesterol in your body called HDL, or high-density lipoprotein. HDL lowers the free-floating LDL in your blood by sweeping up the bad cholesterol and removing or recycling it.3

Studies have shown that after only two months of aerobic activity, HDL cholesterol levels can increase by about five percent in individuals who are otherwise healthy.4 Raising HDL with exercise is tricky, and vigorous exercise is best. If you are in the beginning stages of establishing an exercise routine, aim to get your heart pumping for 30 minutes a day, and work up to five times a week. Go for a walk, run sprints, swim, play a sport, dance, or mow the lawn.

2. Get more fiber.

Fiber is an underestimated heart-healthy nutrient. While both soluble and insoluble fiber helps with cholesterol, soluble fiber binds with the cholesterol particles in your digestive system and sweeps them out of the body.5 Some high fiber foods include raspberries, pears, apples, 100% whole wheat noodles, oat bran, oatmeal, lentils, almonds, and Brussels sprouts.

3. Give your lungs a break.

You’ve heard it before, your smoking habit isn’t good for you. If you need a good reason to quit, here it is: studies have shown that individuals who quit smoking improve their HDL level by 10 percent.6 That’s a big improvement that directly impacts your cholesterol levels and overall heart health.

4. Swap the bad fats for healthy fats.

Your diet plays a big role in improving your cholesterol, especially the fats you eat. You should avoid saturated fats and trans fats at all costs, as these unhealthy fats can raise LDL cholesterol and damage blood vessels by reducing the protective cells that line blood vessels.7 reducing the normal . Saturated fats are mainly from meat, dairy, and other animal sources as well as coconut and palm oil. Trans fats are typically found in processed food, fast food, and packaged goods. You do need healthy fats, so don’t quit fat altogether. According to the USDA, a balanced diet consists of 20 to 35 percent total healthy fats, which may include nuts, fish, chicken, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados.8 Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to your cholesterol health, too, so make salmon and other high-fat fish a priority at least twice a week, and take an omega-3 supplement (our Double Strength and Triple Strength fish oils are great picks).

5. Start a healthy weight loss plan.

If you’re overweight, losing five to ten percent of your current weight can improve HDL.10 Plus, the more you focus on the other cholesterol-lowering habits, like exercising and eating healthy fats, the more likely you are to reach a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure, etc.

6. Limit your alcohol intake.

Regular intake of alcohol is associated with higher levels of HDL, so if you drink more than one drink a day (if you’re a woman) or two drinks a day (if you’re a man), then you should try cutting back to improve your cholesterol. Try substituting heavy liquor for a glass of white wine, and enjoy fermented kombucha, infused mineral water, or iced tea instead.

Remember to take each new lifestyle change a step at a time. You want to introduce these healthy habits gently and prepare for any setbacks. Pick your starting point, commit to it, and gradually get your cholesterol levels in a healthy range.

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