Controlling cholesterol levels is important for heart health. When levels of low-density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol become elevated, plaque can build up in arteries, restricting blood flow and raising the risk of heart attack and stroke. While there are medications for lowering cholesterol, making healthy lifestyle choices can also help.
To support heart health and potentially lower cholesterol, follow these lifestyle tips.
Cardiovascular exercise increases circulation and has been shown to lower cholesterol levels when done regularly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that seniors get at least 150 minutes of low-intensity exercise per week. To follow that advice, you can take walks, do water aerobics, play a sport, dance or even move vigorously while you clean. If you’re not currently exercising, start slowly. Shoot for just 30 minutes per week and gradually increase that time.
Some dietary fats can contribute to high cholesterol. Specifically, saturated and trans fats are particularly bad for people with elevated cholesterol levels. Trans fats are mostly banned in the United States and not commonly found in foods, but many things contain saturated fats, including:
Fortunately, food manufacturers list saturated fat content on labels, so you can compare products and make healthier choices. In place of trans fats, try monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as:
Not all fats are bad for your heart. In fact, your body needs essential fatty acids in small amounts to function properly. Many people don’t get enough of one important type: omega-3 fatty acids. They’re primarily found in fatty fish like salmon and trout, as well as in some shellfish like crab and oysters. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels to support heart health. Try to eat one or two servings of grilled, sauteed or baked fish or seafood weekly to get your supply of omega-3 fatty acids.
Soluble fiber helps your body absorb bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of plaque formation in arteries. Studies show that eating as little as 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day can lower cholesterol levels. Good sources of dietary fiber include oatmeal, bran, peas, apples, citrus fruits, barley and carrots. Try to eat a serving of at least one soluble fiber-rich food at every meal.
Smoking and high cholesterol create a dangerous combination. Toxins in cigarette smoke cause changes to arteries that make it easier for fatty deposits to stick to them and form blockages. In addition, smoking may lower levels of beneficial high-density lipoproteins or HDL cholesterol, which helps control bad LDL cholesterol. If you’re a smoker, support is available to help you quit. Your health care provider can help you choose from options like nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, talk therapy and support groups.
People who are overweight or obese often see their cholesterol levels fall if they shed some pounds. To control your weight, pay attention to portion size. Refer to labels to find serving sizes, and weigh or measure foods to avoid overeating. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and cut back on sugar, fried foods, processed foods and fast food. Exercising regularly can also help support weight loss.
Stress alone won’t usually give you high cholesterol, but there's evidence that people experiencing chronic stress are more likely to have elevated cholesterol levels. To better manage stress, try relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation or deep breathing. Participate in social activities, start a new hobby or take a class you enjoy. Simply talking to friends and family about stress can also make a difference. You may even want to see a mental health professional to learn additional coping mechanisms for managing stress that can benefit both your physical and mental health.
Drinking too much alcohol can have a detrimental effect on your heart. Men should typically have no more than two drinks per day, and women should stop at one alcoholic beverage. Keep in mind that one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Filling up a large glass could mean you’re actually having more than one drink at a time.
Lifestyle changes can make a big impact on your cholesterol levels. However, medications may still be necessary to control your numbers and protect your heart. If you have high cholesterol, discuss treatment options with your medical provider. Residents of Hickory Villa senior living community in Omaha, NE, can get free transportation to scheduled doctor’s appointments so they can keep up with follow-up visits.
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