Cholesterol in small doses is necessary for a healthy body but when too much cholesterol is in the bloodstream, it can cause plaque to build up in the arteries and blood vessels. Watching the diet and eating healthy foods can reduce the build-up of cholesterol and plaque and prevent a heart attack or stroke. But there are also other lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce cholesterol levels. Changing the diet and a making a few lifestyle changes may even help to keep you off of prescription medication for high cholesterol.
Lose Weight to Lower Cholesterol
According to the Mayo Clinic, carrying even a few extra pounds can contribute to high cholesterol. To find out if you need to lose weight, you can calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s calculator. Then compare the total calculation to the chart below to see if you are overweight:
- Normal weight is 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight is 25 to 29.9
- Obese is anything over 30
If your number falls in the 25 to over 30 range, you should consider losing a few pounds in order to lower cholesterol.
Another way to tell if you are overweight is to take a waist measurement. Even if people fall in the normal weight range, if they have a large waist measurement it could mean they are in danger of heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Use a tape measure and measure around the waist at the navel. To be considered a healthy weight, women should measure under 35 inches and men should be under 40 inches. If the waist measurement is higher than those numbers than it is important to lose weight.
Eating a healthy diet is the first step to losing weight and lowering cholesterol. Limit fatty red meats and add more lean meats to the diet such as turkey, chicken and fish. Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to the diet and limit the amount of processed foods that are high in saturated and trans fat. Also, eat low-fat dairy products and whole-grain foods. Making a few small changes to the diet will help in losing excess weight and lowering cholesterol levels.
Exercise to Lower Cholesterol Levels
Studies have found that exercise helps lower low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol and may even raise high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol in the blood. Good cholesterol in the blood pushes the bad cholesterol through the bloodstream to the liver where it is either turned into bile or expelled from the body. Researchers have found that moderate exercise helps stimulate enzymes in the bloodstream that help move bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream so it cannot attach to the walls of arteries and blood vessels.
Duke University Medical Center researchers found that more intense exercise not only helped eliminate bad cholesterol but actually raised the amount of good cholesterol in the bloodstream. However, even if a person chooses moderate exercise over intense he will still see the advantages of lowering bad cholesterol.
Moderate exercise consists of exercising at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week by walking, running, swimming or participating in a sport. Intense exercise is the equivalent of running 20 miles each week. However, any exercise, especially in people who do not already exercise, will help reduce weight and lower bad cholesterol levels.
Reduce Cholesterol Levels Naturally with Lifestyle Changes
Stop Smoking to Lower Cholesterol
Smoking is not only bad for the lungs and heart but it can contribute to raising bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. Cigarettes contain a toxic chemical called acrolein which can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. Acrolein affects the way the body metabolizes cholesterol by interfering with how good cholesterol sweeps away the bad cholesterol. Because good cholesterol is unable to push away the bad cholesterol, more of the bad cholesterol is able to attach itself to the walls of the blood vessels and arteries, causing plaque. Stopping smoking has immediate results for both the lungs and the heart and within one year of stopping, you lower your risk of heart disease by one-half.
Watch Alcohol Consumption to Lower Cholesterol
Drinking small amounts of alcohol has been linked to raising good cholesterol in the blood but consuming high quantities of alcohol negates any benefits it may have. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), drinking too much alcohol raises the amount of fats (triglycerides) in the blood and contributes to high cholesterol levels. It is more beneficial to start an exercise program than to start drinking to lower cholesterol.
If you must drink, the AHA suggests drinking alcohol in moderation. One drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is recommended. Alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, obesity and stroke, and isn’t a healthy cure for lowering cholesterol.
Eating healthy and taking care of the body is the best defense against high cholesterol. By making a few lifestyle changes, you will be able to lower your cholesterol levels. If you still find you need medication to lower cholesterol, these lifestyle changes will still be effective in helping to further lower cholesterol.