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5 heart-healthy tips for combatting high cholesterol

5 heart-healthy tips for combatting high cholesterol

We’ve all heard it before: high cholesterol is bad for your health. But do you know why? And do you know what steps you should be taking to prevent it?

If you’re unsure, you’ve come to the right place! We’re here to break down the good, the bad, and everything in-between that you need to know about cholesterol. Plus, we’ll share some top tips for keeping cholesterol levels under control.

What is cholesterol anyway?

Great question. Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that circulates in the blood. It does lots of good stuff for us, like helping our bodies produce cell membranes, important hormones, and vitamin D.

Ok, so it’s not all bad, right?

True, but the full picture is a little more complicated. Cholesterol comes from two different sources: some is made by your liver, and the rest comes from food sources like meat, dairy products, and some types of oils. Aka, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.

Your liver makes all the cholesterol that your body needs to function properly—otherwise known as “good” cholesterol. It’s the other kind of cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, that can be problematic. High levels of this “bad” cholesterol can contribute to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries, which can put people at higher risk for heart attack and stroke.

Yikes. How do I know if I’m at risk?

Unfortunately, nearly one in three American adults have high levels of LDL cholesterol. That means it’s a smart move for everyone to get their levels checked regularly, and to talk to their doctor about warning signs and prevention strategies. However, some factors can put certain individuals at higher risk of developing high cholesterol.

The most recent Cholesterol Guidelines from the American Heart Association provide detailed lifetime risk assessment strategies, based on an individual’s age, gender, and more. Smoking can increase one’s risk of high cholesterol, as can family history, ethnicity, and certain health conditions including high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

What can I do about it?

Luckily, in addition to working closely with your doctor, there are steps you can take to help lower your cholesterol levels. These five heart-healthy tips can help:

  1. Avoid foods high in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol: As we mentioned above, the bad kind of cholesterol comes directly from the foods we eat. Top offenders include animal products like meat and dairy, but different types of oils (palm oil, for example) can also cause problems. To reduce your risk of high cholesterol, limit your consumption of these foods. Try swapping out meat for healthy, veggie-based alternatives, and consider trying out “Meatless Mondays.” Stick to olive oil when cooking or dressing your meals.
  2. Exercise regularly: Making physical activity a regular habit is a key step for controlling cholesterol levels. While high-intensity exercise like cardio is great for some people, you can also reap the benefits of physical activity through low-impact activities like walking, taking a yoga class, or going on a bike ride in the park. The most important thing is to move your body consistently in a way that works for you!
  3. Maintain a healthy weight: A healthy body weight helps lower your risk of developing high cholesterol complications. Following tips one and two can help with this! Remember, a healthy weight looks different for all of us, so be sure to talk to your doctor about what the right weight is for you.
  4. Don’t smoke: Going smoke-free is key for more reasons than one. Smoking is a top risk factor for many dangerous health concerns, including high cholesterol. If you want to take care of your physical body, it’s important to make quitting smoking a top priority. Learn about our free program to help you quit.
  5. Get your levels checked regularly: If you want to understand your risk and prevent the worst complications, it’s important to know your cholesterol levels. To do so, your doctor will conduct a simple blood test called a “lipid profile”. Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4-6 years—and if you have family history or additional risk factors, you may need to be checked more frequently.

On top of these tips, medication is another option for controlling cholesterol levels. While statins are the first-choice meds for lowering levels, new drugs are available for those who have already had a heart attack or stroke, and who may be at risk of having another. However, medication is only one part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and a holistic approach is the best way to lower your risk of high-cholesterol complications.

Learn about Heart and Vascular Care at Touro.

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