Healthy Cholesterol Levels – Forbes Health – Forbes

If you’re wondering why your cholesterol levels are high, a look at your daily habits is a good place to start. Healthy routines can make a big impact on cholesterol levels.

“The earlier we start building some [healthy] habits in our adult lives, the better it’s going to be,” says Rajaram. “The age-old saying, ‘Prevention is better than cure,’ is really valid.”

Exercise Often

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, recommends the U.S. Surgeon General. What that heart-pumping activity looks like is up to you. It can be yard work, a walk, a swim, high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—the key is to do things you enjoy.

“The best exercise is the one people will do,” says Petersen. However, she adds that aerobic activity is associated with improving cholesterol levels in ways that strength training is not.

Eat a Balanced Diet

When it comes to managing cholesterol, specific foods can help or hinder your efforts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting saturated fats and choosing foods that are low in added trans fat, sugar and sodium. Lean meats and foods naturally high in fiber and unsaturated fats can help keep LDL and triglycerides low while supporting healthy HDL levels.

If that guidance feels overwhelming, Rajaram suggests viewing food on a continuum. At one end is a diet of mostly refined and/or animal-based foods. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a whole-food, plant-based diet. Everyone sits somewhere in this range. She suggests moving more toward the whole-food, plant-based end of the spectrum to benefit your cholesterol levels.

“The idea here is understanding where you are on the continuum and then take steps forward,” she says. “You’re going to see a difference in your overall health.”

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Small changes—like choosing whole-grain toast with avocado over hash browns, bacon and white toast—can add up. You may see your LDL and body weight drop. Plus, these kinds of changes are sustainable in ways restrictive diets are not.

“Will a fad diet or restrictive eating produce results? Absolutely,” says Rajaram. “But can you live like that for the rest of your life? No.”

Both Rajaram and Petersen recommend progressive changes. Trade whole-fat milk for 2% milk. Replace one animal-based meal with whole grains, lentils and beans. Try nuts as a snack—they help lower cholesterol and help you feel fuller. And up your intake of fruits and vegetables—they have lots of soluble fiber and tend to have cholesterol-lowering properties as well.

“Including more servings of whole, plant-based foods is a great start, even if you can’t be exclusively plant-based,” says Rajaram.

Avoid Smoking

Smoking damages blood vessels and can exacerbate the hardening of the arteries. The habit greatly increases risk of heart disease as well. So, if you don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you are a smoker, talk to your physician about ways to quit.

Limit Alcohol

To help manage triglyceride levels, men should have no more than two drinks a day and women should have no more than one drink a day.

“Keep in mind you can’t save all your drinks for one day,” says Petersen.

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Manage Your Weight

Excess body fat changes how your body uses cholesterol. It also slows down the body’s ability to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood. However, even small changes in body weight can have a clinical impact on cholesterol levels.

For people who have elevated cholesterol, losing 5% to 10% of their body weight can help reduce their LDL levels as well.

“Even five pounds can start you on the right track,” says Rajaram.

Work with your doctor to determine a healthy weight for you and how you can reach or maintain it.

Make Incremental Changes

People tend to be drawn to dramatic changes, but small shifts are often more sustainable.

“If you’re making changes to your diet, sleep or activity, don’t go for the all-or-nothing approach,” says Petersen. “Start small. Make a couple of changes, and then when you feel good with them, add on another change until you’re eventually meeting the recommendation.”

And it’s always the right time to start building heart-healthy habits.

“Don’t wait for your cholesterol to go up,” says Rajaram. “Now is the time—everything you do now can make a difference as you move forward.”