Understanding your cholesterol can take a little work, but it’s a good concept to understand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans have high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a natural substance that is created predominately in the liver and is necessary for healthy function. It helps to build new cells, and produces essential vitamins and hormones for your body. Cholesterol doesn’t just float around in your blood; it is carried through your body by lipoproteins. You’ve probably heard of these referred to as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C).
Lipoproteins & Cholesterol Transportation
“I like to think of lipoproteins as little boats that transport cholesterol around your body,” said Ryan Reeser, DO, a resident physician at heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein and beans, whole grains and healthy fats.
Dr. Reeser encourages patients to prioritize lean protein and fiber in their meal planning. Eliminating liquid calories such as soda and sweetened coffee drinks is also helpful.
2. Exercise Every Day
According to Dr. Reeser, a healthy diet and daily exercise are the two most important things you can do to keep your cholesterol levels in the target ranges.
“Exercise and diet work together to improve your cholesterol levels, and have many other health benefits,” he said.
Aim for 30 minutes of intentional, moderate to vigorous exercise most days.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking can damage your blood vessel walls, making it easier for plaque to build up. Fortunately, quitting can help. Research published in the American Heart Journal found that smokers who quit increased their healthy cholesterol levels, even though they gained weight. Talk to your health care provider for resources if you need help quitting.
4. Limit Drinks to One a Day
Moderate drinking – up to one drink a day – is fine as part of a healthy diet (sorry, no saving up for the weekend). However, drinking too much can have a negative effect on triglycerides and blood pressure, said Dr. Reeser. Despite its heart-healthy reputation, wine is not recommended by the American Heart Association for its health benefits, so don’t use that as an excuse to pour a second glass.
5. Add Muscle, Lose Fat
If your goal is to improve your overall health, focus on exercises that develop muscle and reduce fat, recommended Dr. Reeser.
“The number on the scale only tells part of the story. It’s really about losing fat,” he said. “If you already walk or do other cardio exercise, add strength training to your routine. You might not see a big drop on the scale but your body composition will change and you’ll be healthier.”
Talk to your health care provider if you need help with weight loss or exercise and aren’t sure where to start.
You don’t have to wait to make lifestyle changes. If your cholesterol levels are currently within your target range, Dr. Reeser noted that adopting these habits now will keep you healthy well into your senior years.
When Lifestyle Isn’t Enough
“A statin has the double benefit of lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing overall inflammation in the body,” said Dr. Reeser. “These drugs can reduce your overall risk of a cardiovascular event significantly.”
Your health care provider can talk to you about the risks and benefits of statins and whether you are a good candidate.
“A combination of lifestyle and medication can make the biggest impact for people who are at a high risk from cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Reeser. “Implementing these changes now can have a big benefit on your quality of life in the future.”
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