While there are some high cholesterol risk factors you can't change, like your family history or your age, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to achieve or maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Here are five effective lifestyle changes you should be working toward.
1. Quit smoking. Ending tobacco use has many health benefits. Not smoking may lower your blood pressure and your risk of a heart attack, and increase your stamina. When your lungs regain greater capacity, you'll be able to exercise more efficiently, helping raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. Secondhand smoke is also a risk factor, so if you live with someone who smokes, ask them to do it elsewhere.
2. Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. According to Mayo Clinic, losing as little as five to 10 percent of your body weight could have a positive impact on your cholesterol. Almost no one eats healthy all the time, but think about your least healthy eating habits. Do you have an affinity for fried foods, or are you a binge snacker? Cut back and find substitutes. Exercise helps control weight too. More on that below.
3. Eat right. The more cholesterol you eat, the higher your LDL (bad) cholesterol may be. Cholesterol is found in animal products like meat and milk. Opt for lean meats and low-fat milk. Limit your intake of saturated fats and don’t eat any trans fats—these are usually found in processed foods. Replace them with omega-3 fatty acids, found in avocados and fatty fish. According to the American Heart Association, the ideal heart-healthy diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts. When you cook, bake or broil rather than fry. Fiber is also important, and it can be found in whole grains, legumes, and most fruits and vegetables.
4. Get up and move. Exercise is the only way to raise your HDL cholesterol level (remember, that’s the good cholesterol). Aim for about a half hour of exercise every day. It doesn't always have to be vigorous, but try to get your heart rate up. If you can't block out 30 minutes of your time to be active, exercise in small increments.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator and park your car at the back of the parking lot. If you sit at work all day, take a quick walk around the office every couple of hours. Even small amounts of exercise add up. Physical activity burns calories too, helping with weight control.
5. If you're going to drink, do it right. While all alcohol should be consumed in moderation—no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks for men—red wine may actually be good for your heart. It contains polyphenols that help protect the lining of the blood vessels.
Change can be difficult, especially if you're not used to some of these recommendations. We get it. Start small and master one incremental healthy step at a time. Then, once you've made it a habit, add something new to the mix. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish in just a few short months.