(MayoClinic.com) High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. You can reduce cholesterol with medications, but if you'd rather make lifestyle changes to reduce cholesterol, you can try these five healthy lifestyle changes. If you're already taking medications, these changes can also improve their cholesterol-lowering effect.
Carrying some extra pounds — even just a few — contributes to high cholesterol. Losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help significantly reduce cholesterol levels.
Start by taking an honest, thorough look at your eating habits and daily routine. Consider your challenges to weight loss and ways to overcome them.
If you eat when you're bored or frustrated, take a walk instead. If you pick up fast food for lunch every day, pack something healthier from home. If you're sitting in front of the television, try munching on carrot sticks instead of potato chips as you watch. Take time and enjoy rather than "devouring" your food. Don't eat mindlessly.
And look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Take stock of what you currently eat and your physical activity level and slowly work in changes.2. Eat heart-healthy foods
Even if you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt, making a few changes in your diet can reduce cholesterol and improve your heart health.
Whether you're overweight or not, exercise can reduce cholesterol. Better yet, moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. With your doctor's OK, work up to at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Remember that adding physical activity, even in 10-minute intervals several times a day, can help you begin to lose weight. Just be sure that you can keep up the changes you decide to make. Consider:
To stay motivated, find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group. And remember, any activity is helpful. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing a few situps while watching television can make a difference.4. Quit smoking
If you smoke, stop. Quitting may improve your HDL cholesterol level. And the benefits don't end there. Just 20 minutes after quitting, your blood pressure decreases. Within 24 hours, your risk of a heart attack decreases. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked.5. Drink alcohol only in moderation
Moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol — but the benefits aren't strong enough to recommend alcohol for anyone who doesn't already drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.If lifestyle changes aren't enough ...
Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower cholesterol levels. Make sure the changes you choose to make are ones that you can continue, and don't be disappointed if you don't see results immediately. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed, but continue your lifestyle changes.
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