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Lifestyle changes key to bringing down cholesterol

The way you live has a big effect on your cholesterol levels. Even if you're on medicines, you need to eat well and be active.

Blood cholesterol is one of the biggest factors in the health of your heart, brain and blood vessels. Luckily, some of the best ways to influence cholesterol levels are completely within your control.

Keys to healthy cholesterol

According to the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians, these healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent or treat high cholesterol:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods each day.
  • Eat only enough calories to sustain a healthy body weight. To get an idea of how many calories you need each day, use this calculator.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats. Choose fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products, lean meats and skinless poultry.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber, especially soluble fiber. Good sources include oats, oranges and other citrus fruits, strawberries and peas.
  • Choose foods that contain plant stanols or sterols, such as cholesterol-lowering margarines and salad dressings.
  • Shed pounds if you are overweight.
  • Exercise regularly. Healthy adults aged 18 to 64 should do 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise—such as brisk walking, biking, swimming and jogging—five days a week and do strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights, twice a week. Older adults may need to adjust the intensity of their activity. Guidelines call for them to add flexibility exercises as well and balance exercises if they are at risk for falls.

Talk to your doctor if you have concerns or questions about the best type of exercise for you, or for advice and suggestions on creating a heart-healthy lifestyle.

If your cholesterol levels are high, your doctor may recommend very specific guidelines for diet and exercise. If your cholesterol remains high after several months of following these guidelines, you may need to add medicines to your cholesterol-control program.

Reviewed 11/15/2023

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