Cholesterol is necessary for the human body but high levels can increase your risk of heart disease. Not all cholesterol is created equal—LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is known as “bad cholesterol”, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol” and VLDL (very-low-density lipoproteins) carry triglycerides in the blood. “If you have high cholesterol, it can cause heart attack and stroke,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “And the way it does that is it lays down in our blood vessels and builds up blockages. Now, people can also have vascular dementia. So having high cholesterol can also cause dementia.” If you have high cholesterol, here are five ways to lower it—without medication. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
There’s no getting around it—if you want to lower your cholesterol, you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet—the Mediterranean Diet is backed by countless studies as ideal for heart health. “High cholesterol clogs your arteries,” says Julia Zumpano, RD. “Eat in a way that keeps the arteries open and clear because restricted blood flow leads to heart attacks… The amount of research that supports the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular health is phenomenal. It’s been proven to be very effective for managing heart disease.”
Regular exercise is not only great for your overall health and happiness, it can help lower your cholesterol. “Exercise is a great place to start if you’re trying to lower bad cholesterol,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “But it doesn’t stop there. Combining exercise with healthier diet and lifestyle choices makes the most impact.”
Here are the American Heart Association‘s recommendations for adults:
- Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
- Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
- Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
- Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.
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When it comes to lowering cholesterol, moderating your alcohol intake—if not eliminating it entirely—can make a difference. In one experiment, people who gave up drinking for five weeks not only showed incredible health improvements across the board—but an almost 5% drop in their blood cholesterol. “What you have is a pretty average group of British people who would not consider themselves heavy drinkers, yet stopping drinking for a month alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helps them lose weight,” says Kevin Moore, consultant in liver health services at University College London Medical School. “If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”
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Losing weight is closely tied to a healthy diet and exercise—and it makes a huge difference where unhealthy cholesterol is concerned. “If you’re overweight or obese, shed the extra pounds. Weight loss helps lower LDL cholesterol. Even a small-to-moderate weight loss — just 10 to 20 pounds — can make an impact,” Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD, and exercise physiologist Michael Crawford, MS, told the Cleveland Clinic.
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If you’re serious about lowering cholesterol, don’t smoke—it is linked to higher LDL cholesterol. “Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking really truly is one of the worst things we could do, not just for your heart, but for your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things,” says Dr. Cho. “And I know that one of the sad statistics is that younger people are taking up smoking and thinking vaping is safe and it really is not.”