What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body's cells, and it plays essential roles in building cell membranes, producing hormones, and aiding in digestion. There are two types of cholesterol: LDL (low-density lipoprotein), often referred to as "bad cholesterol," which can build up in the arteries and increase the risk of heart disease, and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), known as "good cholesterol," which helps remove LDL cholesterol from the arteries. Maintaining a balance of these cholesterol levels is crucial for overall health and heart function.
What lifestyle changes can improve cholesterol?
"While medication can be prescribed to manage high cholesterol," says James H. Wang, MD, Family Medicine, "Lifestyle changes can also have a significant impact on lowering cholesterol levels."
What foods can help lower cholesterol?
The food we consume plays a vital role in managing cholesterol levels. Including heart-healthy foods in your diet can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and boost good cholesterol (HDL). Some of the foods that can aid in lowering cholesterol include:
- Oats and barley: Rich in soluble fiber, oats, and barley can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.
- Fatty fish: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout can help lower triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats that can improve cholesterol levels.
- Fruits and vegetables: High in fiber and antioxidants, fruits and vegetables promote heart health by reducing cholesterol and improving blood pressure.
- Soy: Foods like tofu and soy milk contain plant-based compounds that can lower LDL cholesterol.
- Olive oil: Replacing unhealthy fats with olive oil can improve cholesterol profiles and protect against heart disease.
What foods should you limit if you have high cholesterol?
Foods high in saturated and trans fats should be minimized, including:
- Red meat: High in saturated fat, excessive consumption of red meat can raise LDL cholesterol levels.
- Processed foods: Many processed and fried foods contain unhealthy trans fats that can increase LDL cholesterol and reduce HDL cholesterol.
- Full-fat dairy: Full-fat cheese, butter, and other dairy products can raise cholesterol levels due to their saturated fat content.
- Baked goods: Commercially produced baked goods often contain trans fats that are harmful to cholesterol levels.
What other lifestyle changes can help lower cholesterol?
- Activity for the heart: Regular physical activity is an essential component of managing cholesterol levels and promoting heart health. Engaging in aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling can help raise HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress can contribute to higher cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. When under stress, the body releases hormones like cortisol, which can impact cholesterol metabolism. Practicing stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or spending time in nature can be beneficial for managing stress and promoting heart health.
- Manage weight: Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for managing cholesterol levels. Excess body weight, especially around the abdomen, can contribute to higher LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. A balanced diet and regular physical activity can aid in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, thereby improving overall cholesterol profiles.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol through lifestyle changes?
"Generally, consistent lifestyle changes can yield positive results within a few weeks to a few months," says Dr. Wang. "However, it's important to note that individual factors such as genetics, current cholesterol levels, and adherence to lifestyle changes can influence the rate of improvement." It's important to work with your primary care physician (PCP) to monitor cholesterol levels regularly and assess progress.
Start living your healthiest life!
"Lowering your cholesterol through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and positive choices not only adds years to your life but life to your years!" says Dr. Wang. "It's never too early or too late to make some simple changes to your lifestyle for better heart health."
Make an appointment
Always consult with a doctor before making significant changes to your lifestyle or if you have any underlying health conditions. You can make an appointment online with one of our PCPs through ARC MyChart or by calling an ARC clinic near you.
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- Simply go to ARC Family Medicine or ARC Internal Medicine and click the BOOK NOW button.
- Answer a few questions, then choose the ESTABLISH PATIENT CARE button.