Four Changes You Should Make to Improve Your High Cholesterol

Four Changes You Should Make to Improve Your High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a common — but serious — health problem. Cholesterol is a substance that your body uses to build cells, but having high cholesterol means there’s too much of it in your blood.

Excess cholesterol can build up in your arteries, narrowing them and making your heart work harder over time. When you have high cholesterol, your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, is higher, too.

Fortunately, you can improve your cholesterol levels and your health. Kunal Patel, MD, and our team at NJ Cardiovascular Institute are here to teach you how.

Understanding your cholesterol numbers

Cholesterol tests measure two main types of cholesterol in your blood: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDL is often called the “good” cholesterol, because it removes excess cholesterol from your blood and takes it to your liver. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, because this is the type that builds up in your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

When you get a cholesterol test, Dr. Patel takes a small sample of your blood and measures your HDL and LDL. Your cholesterol is in a healthy range if your HDL is 60 or higher, your LDL is under 100, and your total cholesterol is under 200.

You’re considered at risk if your HDL is 40-59 (for men) or 50-59 (for women), your LDL is 100-159, and your total cholesterol is between 200-239.

You’re diagnosed with high cholesterol if your HDL is under 40 (for men) or under 50 (for women), your LDL is 160 or higher, and your total cholesterol is 240 or higher.

Many cholesterol tests also measure triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood. High triglyceride levels can also increase your risk of heart disease.

How to lower your high cholesterol

Whether you already have high cholesterol or your cholesterol test showed that you’re at risk, it’s not too late to improve your numbers. Lifestyle habits are the main contributor to harmful cholesterol levels, and making healthy changes is an effective way to lower your cholesterol.

A few of the changes Dr. Patel and our team recommend are:

1. Getting regular exercise

Physical activity is one of the best ways to manage your cholesterol naturally, and we recommend making a habit of exercise for better heart health. Exercise increases your good cholesterol levels and decreases both bad cholesterol and blood pressure.

You should aim to get about 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days a week. Along with controlling cholesterol levels, exercise helps you lose extra pounds. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help lower your risk of heart disease and other complications.

2. Eating a heart-healthy diet

Trans fats contribute to high cholesterol, and eating foods that contain this type of fat can raise your cholesterol levels. Avoid foods that have “hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients, as these contain trans fats. Packaged baked goods, fast foods, and processed snack foods may contain trans fats. 

Eating too many foods with saturated fats may also contribute to high cholesterol levels, so try to limit your intake of fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.

Instead, focus on eating foods low in fat, salt, and added sugars. Choose low-fat dairy products, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil and nuts. Foods high in fiber (like beans and oats) can help reduce bad cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol levels.

3. Quitting smoking

Smoking elevates bad cholesterol levels and reduces good cholesterol levels. The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage your blood vessels, which hardens your arteries and makes it more likely that bad cholesterol will build up.

If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting can have a positive impact on your cholesterol levels and your heart health. Talk with Dr. Patel and our team to get help with smoking cessation. 

4. Limiting alcohol

While some research indicates that red wine offers heart-health benefits, too much alcohol can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which increases your risk of heart disease and other heart problems.

Avoid drinking too much alcohol. In general, that means no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women.

Surprised by your cholesterol numbers? You’re not alone, and it’s not too late to change them. Book an appointment online or call the NJ Cardiovascular Institute office nearest you to get personalized support for better heart health.

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