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How to Lower Cholesterol with Diet, Exercise, and Healthy Habits

High cholesterol is a common health issue that can lead to serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, there are several ways to manage and lower cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices. In some cases, medication may also be necessary. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Lowering your cholesterol

Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. It’s essential for building healthy cells, but having high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, can increase your risk of heart disease. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, helps remove LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream.


Dietary Changes to Lower Cholesterol

1. Reduce Saturated Fats:

• Saturated fats, found in red meat and full-fat dairy products, raise your total cholesterol levels. Limiting your intake of these foods can help lower LDL cholesterol.

• Opt for lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy, and use healthy fats like olive oil or avocado oil instead.

2. Eliminate Trans Fats:

• Trans fats, often found in processed and commercially baked goods, are particularly bad for cholesterol levels. They not only increase LDL cholesterol but also lower HDL cholesterol.

• Avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.

3. Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

• Omega-3s do not affect LDL cholesterol but have heart-healthy benefits, including reducing blood pressure and inflammation.

• Good sources include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

4. Eat More Soluble Fiber:

• Soluble fiber can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream.

• Foods high in soluble fiber include oats, barley, beans, lentils, fruits (especially apples, pears, and citrus fruits), and vegetables.

5. Add Whey Protein:

• Whey protein, found in dairy products, can lower LDL cholesterol as well as total cholesterol.

• Consider incorporating whey protein powder into your diet if you are not lactose intolerant.


Exercise and Physical Activity

1. Regular Physical Activity:

• Exercise helps boost your body’s HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

• Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Activities such as brisk walking, running, cycling, and swimming are excellent choices.

2. Incorporate Strength Training:

• Include strength training exercises at least twice a week. This can help maintain a healthy weight and improve your cholesterol levels.

• Use weights, resistance bands, or body-weight exercises like push-ups and squats.


Healthy Lifestyle Choices

1. Maintain a Healthy Weight:

• Being overweight or obese tends to raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Losing even a small amount of weight can help improve your cholesterol levels.

2. Quit Smoking:

• Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol and is harmful to your heart. Quitting smoking improves your HDL cholesterol level and benefits your heart and overall health.

3. Limit Alcohol Intake:

• Excessive alcohol can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure and heart failure. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation: up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.


Medications for Lowering Cholesterol

While diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are effective ways to lower cholesterol, some individuals may also need medication. Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications if:

• You have a very high LDL cholesterol level.

• You have cardiovascular disease or a high risk of developing it.

• Lifestyle changes alone do not lower your cholesterol levels sufficiently.


Common medications include:

1. Statins:

• Statins are the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs. They work by blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol and may also help your body reabsorb cholesterol from built-up deposits on your artery walls.

2. Bile Acid Sequestrants:

• These drugs reduce the amount of fat absorbed from food and increase the disposal of cholesterol.

3. Cholesterol Absorption Inhibitors:

• These medications help reduce blood cholesterol by limiting the absorption of dietary cholesterol.

4. PCSK9 Inhibitors:

• These are newer drugs that help the liver absorb more LDL cholesterol, which reduces the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood.

5. Other Medications:

• Your doctor might also prescribe fibrates, niacin, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements depending on your specific health needs.


Conclusion

Managing cholesterol levels is crucial for maintaining heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. By making informed dietary choices, engaging in regular physical activity, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, and, when necessary, taking prescribed medications, you can effectively lower your cholesterol and improve your overall well-being.


If you have any concerns about your cholesterol levels or need personalized advice, please consult your healthcare provider. Together, we can develop a plan that best suits your health needs and lifestyle.


Stay healthy and proactive!


Dr. Daniel Sørli