Cholesterol—the waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body—can cause severe health risks if not maintained within healthy levels. High cholesterol can result in heart attack, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease; all conditions that can lead to death. While for many patients, statins—prescription medications used to help lower cholesterol levels—can successfully mitigate associated health risks, there are also lifestyle changes that you can make today to start lowering your cholesterol tomorrow. What follows are five such suggestions to help you take the first vital steps toward a healthier, longer life.
Saturated fats can raise total cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturated fats include red meat, full-fat dairy, milk and white chocolate, fatty meats such as lamb, processed meats such as burgers and bacon, butter, lard, fried foods, baked goods, and coconut and palm oils. By decreasing your consumption of foods rich with saturated fats, you can reduce your levels of the bad-for-you low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Once you clean out your pantry and refrigerator to rid your diet of bad-for-you foods, you’ll need to stock up on healthy alternatives. Choose no-calorie beverages such as water and sugar-free tea, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olives and olive oil, tree nuts such as almonds and cashews, avocados, and lean meats instead. By following a heart-healthy diet, not only will you help lower your cholesterol, but you will feel better and can maintain a healthy weight.
Reducing your cholesterol levels is a lot about diet, but it’s also about exercise. Working out at least two and a half hours per week can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (the good kinds of cholesterol) and lower LDL. If you have not been working out regularly, do not feel the pressure to jump into triathlon training or join a cross-fit gym. Simply walking every day can help you reach your fitness goals until you feel well enough to increase the intensity of your workouts. Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new fitness routine.
Oats are a superfood that are particularly impactful for those looking to lower cholesterol. Commit to a healthy serving of oatmeal or cold, oat-based cereal for breakfast daily. It’s the fiber in the oatmeal that will help you lower your cholesterol. If you don’t love the taste of oatmeal, toss some heart-healthy blueberries on top for some added sweetness. Other foods high in fiber include barley, beans, nuts, apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
Don’t let the word “fatty” fool you. Foods that are rich in omega-3s can help to reduce blood pressure, which is critical for those at risk of health complications due to high cholesterol. Foods to add to your shopping list include salmon, herring, mackerel, flaxseeds (which are an excellent topper for light yogurt and salads), and walnuts.
If you need support and guidance to help lower your cholesterol, talk to your doctor. Depending on your risk factors, They may still recommend medication, but they will likely also recommend lifestyle changes that will offer comprehensive health benefits. Being active and eating a healthy diet will not only lower your total cholesterol, but it can help you lose weight, sleep better, and feel more energetic, so you’re ready to take on every beautiful, fulfilling day.