As part of a complete prevention and treatment program for managing your cholesterol and lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes. Regardless of whether your plan includes drug therapy, you can do a number of things every day to improve your cholesterol levels and your overall health:
Eat a heart-healthy diet
To lower cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends eating a dietary pattern that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts.
You should also limit red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
Many diets fit that pattern, including the DASH – short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – eating plan promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and diets suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Heart Association.
The pattern can be easily adapted based on your cultural and food preferences. Learn more about limiting certain fats in Know Your Fats.
Add supplements to your diet
Certain supplements may help improve your cholesterol levels if changing your diet isn’t enough. Some examples include:
Plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols can help keep your body from absorbing cholesterol. Sterols have been added to some foods, including margarines and spreads, orange juice and yogurt.
You can also find sterols and stanols in some dietary supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids. If you have heart disease or high triglycerides, consider taking an omega-3 or fish oil supplement.
Make sure the supplement has at least 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA (these are the specific omega-3 fatty acids found in fish).
Red yeast rice. A common seasoning in Asian countries, red yeast rice may help reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes.
It is available as a dietary supplement. Talk to your doctor before taking red yeast rice, especially if you take another cholesterol-lowering medicine called a statin. The recommended dose of red yeast rice is 1,200 milligrams twice a day.
Being physically active is also important to prevent heart disease and stroke.
Just 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity done three to four times a week is enough to lower both cholesterol and high blood pressure. Brisk walking, swimming, bicycling or a dance class are examples.
Exercise can raise HDL cholesterol levels and reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. If you haven’t been exercising, try to work up to 30 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week.
Make sure you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan.
Lose weight if you are overweight.
Being overweight can raise your cholesterol levels. Losing weight, even just 5 or 10 pounds, can lower your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Avoid tobacco smoke
If you smoke, your cholesterol level is one more good reason to quit. And everyone should avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
Tips for Success
Eating a healthy diet and including exercise in your routine can give you the edge in the fight against heart disease and stroke. Follow your doctor’s advice carefully, and if you don’t understand something, ask.
Let your doctor be your coach in combating heart disease and stroke. It’s your health. It’s your heart.