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4 Impactful Lifestyle Changes That Help Improve Your Cholesterol

Posted June 01, 2020 by Kenneth D Varian, MD

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced by the liver and has many important functions in your body. Your body uses it to protect nerves, make cell tissues, keep your cells flexible and produce certain hormones. In addition to your liver making cholesterol, there are many foods that contain cholesterol, including eggs, meats and dairy products. Eating too much of these foods can add too much cholesterol to your body and have negative side effects. 

Too much cholesterol in your body leads to a buildup in your arteries. These buildups cause blocked arteries, an increased risk of blood clots, and a greater risk for heart attack and stroke. There are a number of medications that can help bring your cholesterol under control, but even if you are prescribed these medications, there are some lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your cholesterol naturally.  

Start a Heart Healthy Diet 
Changing what you put into your body can significantly help improve your health and lower your cholesterol. Studies have found plant-based diets are the best way to significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. Therefore, for optimal risk reduction, your goal should be to work toward a completely planted-based diet by:  
- Eliminating saturated fats: Found in red meat and full-fat dairy products, saturated fats increase your total cholesterol. 
- Eliminating trans fats: Trans fats, also referred to as “partially hydrogenated oil” can be found in highly processed foods like margarine, chips, store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils sold after January 1, 2021. 
- Increasing soluble fiber: Soluble fiber, found in foods like oatmeal, kidney beans, Brussel sprouts and apples, can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. 
- Choosing quality plant foods: A healthful plant-based diet should consist of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and healthy oils, while staying away from refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes and canned vegetables. 

Get Active 
Exercise can help improve cholesterol because it raises levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and lowers triglycerides in your blood. You should try to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise, per week. Moderate-intensity activities include taking a brisk walk, dancing or riding your bike to work, while high-intensity workouts include jogging, aerobic dancing and swimming laps. Exercise must feel like you are pushing yourself and working hard. Make sure you are doing it safely and ask if in doubt.

Drop the Vices
The benefits of quitting smoking have an immediate impact on your cholesterol levels – within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate recover, and within a year your risk of heart disease is half that of a regular smoker. If you need help kicking the habit, talk to your doctor about programs to make it easier. 
In addition to quitting smoking, decreasing your alcohol intake can also positively impact your cholesterol levels. The recommended daily maximum for alcohol consumption is 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men with no binge drinking. A drink is about 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.

Lose Weight
Being overweight can have a significant impact on your cholesterol – just a few extra pounds could contribute to high cholesterol. Dropping the sugary drinks and salty snacks and swapping them for something healthier can help you drop those pounds, along with adding more activity into your daily life. If you need assistance with your weight loss journey, Summa Health’s Weight Management Institute offers many options for weight loss. 

The Bottom Line
Cholesterol is necessary for the body to function, but could be dangerous if it gets out of control. Often, the first line of treatment is to make daily lifestyle changes, but it’s important to talk to your doctor so you can put together a plan for getting your cholesterol in check. Book your appointment with your Summa Health primary care physician today.


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