Cholesterol is a naturally occuring substance in your blood that your body uses to build healthy cells. For people with high blood cholesterol levels, the waxy substance can build up in the blood vessels. These fatty deposits make it more difficult for blood to flow through.
High cholesterol is a leading risk factor for heart disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death for men and women in the United States. High cholesterol often has no signs or symptoms — the best way to diagnose and monitor your cholesterol levels is regular physical exams and blood testing.
If you’re diagnosed with high cholesterol, you can make a number of lifestyle changes to reduce your cholesterol levels and improve your overall well-being. At Gastonia Wellness & Long Term Care, James E. Needell, MD, helps patients of all ages find cholesterol management plans that fit their needs. Here are the top five lifestyle tips to keep your cholesterol in check.
1. Get plenty of physical activity
You should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days per week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Exercise helps your cholesterol levels by increasing your HDL, or “good” cholesterol.
Before embarking on a new exercise plan, be sure to get a physical exam and doctor approval. If it’s a challenge for you to exercise for 30 minutes at a time, you can still see the benefits by breaking your workouts into shorter sessions of five or 10 minutes at a time.
2. Adjust your diet for heart health
Saturated fats and trans fats raise your total cholesterol levels. Foods like red meat and full-fat milk and cheese contain saturated fats, and trans fats are often found in store-bought pastries and baked goods.
Eating more heart-healthy foods lowers your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. Soluble fiber can reduce the amount of cholesterol your blood absorbs from the food you eat. Whole grains and beans are good sources of soluble fiber. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids can boost heart health, too, so consider adding fatty fish, such as salmon or herring, and walnuts to your diet.
3. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight can increase your total cholesterol levels. Losing those extra pounds can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is making long-term lifestyle changes.
While crash-dieting might help you lose a few pounds quickly, you’re likely to gain them back as soon as you stop dieting. Instead, focus on eating a healthier diet and eliminating foods with extra sugar and fat. Add regular exercise to your daily habits. Find an exercise group or a friend to take walks with to help you keep moving.
4. Manage stress
Regularly feeling stressed may affect your cholesterol levels. Chronic stress is linked to higher body weight and less healthy dietary habits, which impact your cholesterol levels and heart health.
By managing stress in a healthy way, you might notice improvements in the way you feel, your energy levels, and even your cholesterol levels. Meditation, yoga, and journaling are helpful methods for managing the stress of everyday life.
5. Quit smoking
Cigarette smoke damages the walls of your blood vessels and increases your risk of developing the fatty deposits that make your heart work harder. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol levels.
Research shows that just 20 minutes after you stop smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate return to healthier levels. Blood circulation improves after three months of not smoking, and your risk for heart disease is reduced by half after a year.
These lifestyle changes can make a big difference for your cholesterol levels and heart health. In some cases, Dr. Needell also might recommend medication to help keep cholesterol in check. To learn more about cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease, make an appointment at Gastonia Wellness & Long Term Care today.