We all know that high cholesterol increases our risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Whilst it is possible to reduce cholesterol with medication, we can also make changes to our lifestyle to help reduce it too. Here are five healthy lifestyle changes that individually and combined, can contribute to improvements in cholesterol levels.
Being overweight contributes to high cholesterol and losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help significantly reduce cholesterol levels. Balance calories consumed to calories burned. Go for a walk instead of snacking, eat fresh fruit or munch a carrot instead of eating chips and pack fresh food from home instead of buying food from the work place.
Eat heart healthy foods
Making a few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health.
- Reduce intake of fats: such as saturated fats, found in red meat and dairy products. These raise your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. Instead, choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils;
- Eliminate trans fats: found in fried foods and many shop-bought baked products, such as cookies, pasties and cakes;
- Eat whole grains: nutrients found in whole grains promote heart health. Eat whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat flour and brown rice. You will be surprised how much tastier these whole foods are than their processed cousins;
- Limit the cholesterol in your food: the most concentrated sources of cholesterol include meats, egg yolks and whole milk products. Use lean cuts of meat and low fat dairy products, or try dairy products with plant sterols which are also known to reduce cholesterol;
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: omega-3 fatty acids can help lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Some types of fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as are walnuts, almonds and ground flaxseeds;
- Eat plenty fruit and vegetables: fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fibre, which can help lower cholesterol. Snack on seasonal fruits and dry fruit and why not experiment with vegetarian meals such as casseroles, curries and chilli, with soya based meat substitutes.
Exercise can reduce cholesterol and moderate physical activity can even help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol. With your doctor’s approval, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Physical activity, even in 10-minute intervals several times a day, can help us begin to lose weight.
Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate alcohol intake has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol, but the benefits are certainly nowhere near strong enough to recommend alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation as drinking too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.
If you smoke, try and stop. The facts around quitting smoking are staggering. Stopping may improve your HDL cholesterol level 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure decreases and within 24 hours, your risk of a heart attack decreases. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked.