You probably know that having high cholesterol puts your health at risk, but you may not know that it’s actually a major risk factor for heart disease, which happens to be the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women alike.
Luckily, it’s also a controllable risk factor, meaning you have the power to prevent it, correct it, and keep it under control, simply by making a few strategic lifestyle changes.
Almost half of American adults have high cholesterol levels. If you’re one of them, the team of preventive cardiology experts at ECCA can give you the information, advice, and support you need to get your numbers back in line — and get your health back on track — for life.
With that in mind, here are eight of the most effective strategies for lowering your cholesterol.
1. Choose heart-healthy foods
Just as unhealthy food choices can raise your blood cholesterol levels over time, healthy food choices can help you reverse course and bring your levels back under control. It’s as simple as following a heart-healthy diet, or one that’s low in sodium, limits saturated fats, contains plenty of dietary fiber, and is rich in unsaturated fats.
Fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and lean animal proteins like poultry form the basis of a heart-healthy diet (the DASH eating plan is just one such diet that fits this profile).
Eating foods that are high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, peas, beans, and lentils, can have an even more dramatic impact, as soluble fiber helps prevent dietary cholesterol from entering your bloodstream in the first place.
2. Limit or avoid unhealthy fats
A cholesterol-reducing diet is also defined by what it excludes. To achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels, you should cut back on saturated fats and steer clear of trans fats altogether, as both promote higher blood cholesterol levels.
Make sure that saturated fats account for no more than 5% of your daily calories. This means eating less red meat and fewer full-fat dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. To cut trans fats from your diet, skip margarines and other food products that are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
3. Become more physically active
Inactivity can cause your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels to plummet. As the “good” kind of cholesterol, HDL helps clear excess low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from your blood. LDL is the “bad” kind of cholesterol that gathers in your arteries and makes them hard and inflexible.
As you might imagine, getting off the couch is a great way to reverse the trend. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity each day — brisk walking is an ideal workout for most beginners.
If you’re unsure of where to start, the team at ECCA can help you develop a complete exercise plan that takes your health, fitness level, and wellness goals into account.
4. Aim for a healthy body weight
Carrying extra weight makes it harder for your body to maintain healthy cholesterol levels on two fronts: it diminishes helpful HDL levels and boosts dangerous LDL levels. Unfortunately, being overweight or obese also increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
But adopting a heart-healthy diet and becoming more active pull a kind of double-duty when it comes to achieving lower cholesterol levels and a healthier body weight. In fact, simply losing 5% to 10% of your body weight is often all it takes to improve your numbers and mitigate the associated health risks.
5. Don’t smoke cigarettes
Smoking promotes high cholesterol levels by depleting the amount of HDL cholesterol that’s circulating in your blood. It also compounds the health hazards presented by other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes.
Quitting cigarettes isn’t just good for your cholesterol, it’s good for your entire body. If you’ve never been able to quit in the past, the team at ECCA can give you the tools and guidance you need to be successful today and into the future.
6. Drink fewer alcoholic beverages
Drinking too much alcohol — or more than two alcoholic beverages per day for men, and more than one alcoholic beverage per day for women — can wreak havoc on your blood lipid profile, raising your cholesterol levels as well as your triglyceride levels.
Besides putting you on a faster track toward heart disease, the combination of high cholesterol and high triglycerides boosts your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Drinking alcohol in moderation — or not at all — promotes a healthier blood lipid profile all around.
If you’re ready to get your cholesterol under control, we can help. Call your nearest ECCA office in Manchester, Hartford, or South Windsor, Connecticut, today, or click online to book an appointment with one of our cardiovascular experts any time.