Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Plan to Lower Your Cholesterol

High cholesterol puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. However, you can reduce your bad cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol. Just follow this plan.

“I tell my patients that you have to start somewhere and just keep going,” says Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a practicing physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “As you adopt healthy habits, everything shifts, and the improvements you see at six weeks often increase by three months.”

Your lifestyle isn’t everything – your genes matter, too. You still may need to take medicine to get your cholesterol back on track. But your daily habits do help. If you make just a few simple changes, you might be able to lower your medication dose and risk of side effects.

Here are 5 simple steps to reduce your cholesterol levels: 1.) Eat fish 2.) Reduce saturated fat 3.) Cut trans fats 4.) Increase fiber intake 5.) Exercise regularly

Trans fats ban
“They raise your LDL, lower your HDL, and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases,” Steinbaum said.

Trans fats are unhealthy because they raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL cholesterol levels. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration took action to reduce the amount of trans fat in our food supply. But even though trans fat is gone from many packaged foods, you may still find traces of partially hydrogenated oils in processed foods. So when you buy groceries, read ingredient lists carefully. You may also find trans fat listed under another name, like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to lower your cholesterol. If you’re overweight, drop just 10 pounds and you’ll cut your LDL by up to 8%. But to really keep off the pounds, you’ll have to do it over time. A reasonable and safe goal is 1 to 2 pounds per week. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says that while inactive, overweight women usually need 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for weight loss, active, overweight women and women weighing more than 164 pounds usually require 1,200 to 1,600 calories each day. If you’re extremely active during your weight-loss program, you may require additional calories to avoid hunger.

Move It
“Exercise at least 2 ½ hours per week is enough to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol,” says Dr. Sarah Samaan, a cardiologist in Plano, Texas. “Start slowly – even 10 minutes of activity counts.” Choose an exercise you enjoy. And pair up: Having someone else around helps keep you motivated.

Eat More Fibers
Fruits like apples, pears, plums, oranges, bananas, and berries contain lots of vitamin C, which helps boost immunity and fight off colds. Vitamin C also helps prevent scurvy, a disease caused by lack of vitamin C. A cup of orange juice contains around 100 milligrams of vitamin C, while a banana provides 50 mg. Add some spinach to your lunchtime salad for even more vitamin C.

Play Go Fish
Eat fish at least 2–4 times per week. “Fish contains healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids,” explains Dr. Michael Greger, director of nutrition at “Replacing red meat with fish lowers your cholesterol by lowering your exposure to saturated fat, which is abundant in red meat.” However, some species of fish contain higher levels of mercury than others. So, check the label before you buy. You can also try canned light tuna instead of raw fish. Canned tuna does not contain any mercury.

Olive oil
“Replacing butter with olive oil may lower LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%, which is similar to the effects of a low dose of medication,” says Dr. Sami Samaan, director of cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Olive oil also helps protect against cardiovascular disease.” Choose extra virgin olive oil over regular olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is less processed than regular olive oil and contains more antioxidants, which help prevent diseases.

Get Nutty
Many types can lower LDL. The reason: They contain sterols, which, like fiber, keep the body from absorbing cholesterol. But nuts are high in calories (one ounce of almonds contains 164!), so limit yourself to 1/2 cup per week.

Cholesterol levels rise during times of stress, so try to relax whenever you can. Go for walks, get lost in a good book, or take to your yoga mat. These simple changes can help keep your cholesterol in check.

Treat Yourself
Garlic, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon are just some of the spices that can reduce cholesterol levels. Studies show that adding a little spice to your dishes can help you lose weight. For example, research suggests that eating a half to one clove of garlic per day could lower cholesterol up to nine percent. And while you may think that adding extra seasoning to your food will only increase your appetite, studies suggest that it actually decreases your hunger, helping you shed those unwanted pounds.

Quit smoking
“Smoking can raise low density lipoprotein (LDL) and lower high density lipoprotein (HDL), and quitting often improves those numbers,” says Dr. Sami Samaan, director of cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “In one study, people who quit smoking saw their ‘good’ cholesterol rise five per cent in one year.” However, if you’re regularly exposed to cigarette smoke, beware: Breathing secondhand smoke every day can also increase levels of bad cholesterol.

Smile More
Humor is like medicine: It increases good cholesterol levels, according to Dr. Daniel J. Steinbaum, director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Need to add some humor to your life? Try watching silly pet videos online, signing up for a joke-a-day email, or watching funny movies.