Yesterday, we went over five things we should know about Medicare. Today, we consider five lifestyle changes that may help you reduce your cholesterol.
Cholesterol, you ask? With all the other things to worry about – the economy, the elections, the environment – and you want us to worry about cholesterol? Isn’t that something for our parents to talk about with their friends over a Red Lobster dinner date? Should I really have to deal with this while still making student loan payments?
Here’s the thing: high cholesterol has no symptoms. And it creates all kinds of really serious health issues. Your genetic makeup, including a family history of high cholesterol, may make you more prone to cholesterol problems, despite your best efforts to exercise every day and eat properly (and by this, of course, we mean lots of fresh fruits and veggies, not elaborate table manners!). Indeed, many health practitioners consider it very sensible to establish your baseline cholesterol with a test at age 20, following up with tests at least once every five years.
So, here goes – and these changes could help keep you off cholesterol-lowering medications or, should you already be taking some, may well improve their effectiveness:
- Lose those extra pounds. Even a few pounds too many can contribute to high cholesterol. Shedding five or ten pounds reduces cholesterol levels. Think before you grab something to eat, and when you do snack, make it fresh veggies instead of chips. Get more active, too. But you know all this.
- Quit smoking. Quitting smoking can improve you HDL cholesterol level. And did you know that within twenty minutes of quitting, your blood pressure goes down? Within 24 hours, you will have reduced your risk of heart attack. A year after quitting, your heart disease risk is half that of a smoker. And here’s a really encouraging one: within 15 years, your risk of heart attack is about the same as someone who never smoked!
- Drink alcohol, if you drink, in moderation. While moderate alcohol intake has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol (a good thing), the benefits are not strong enough to suggest that nondrinkers start drinking. Moderation means one drink a day for a woman, perhaps two per day for a man. And of course, overdoing it can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. You know all about this, too.
- Eat heart-healthy foods. Again, this is nothing new. But you really don’t have to do much to your diet to reduce cholesterol and build heart health, even after years and years of salty noodle cups and a zillion fries. Start with choosing healthier fats, the monounsaturated kind found in olive, peanut and canola oils. You should get no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats, those found in red meat and dairy products. Eliminate trans fats, the fats found in fried foods and commercial baked goods such as crackers and cookies and snack cakes. Limit the cholesterol in your food. The most concentrated sources include organ meats, whole milk products and egg yolks. Select whole grain breads and pastas when you can, and brown rice. Eat fresh fruits and veggies rich in dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol. And look for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower LDL cholesterol, the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
- Exercise daily. Exercise can reduce cholesterol, whether or not you are overweight. And – and this is a very good thing – physical activity can help raise HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol. Try to work up to 30 – 60 minutes per day of exercise. You can do this at ten-minute intervals throughout the day if this is better for your schedule. You might