Cholesterol has long been known as the main culprit for heart diseases. However, our understanding of cholesterol and how it affects our overall health has evolved over time. Our body requires cholesterol, but too much of it can lead to blockages that impede blood flow in the body.

Not all cholesterol is the same. There are two types of cholesterol: the good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The good cholesterol, also known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein), is the type of cholesterol that you want to keep at a high level as it helps reduce cancer risks. On the other hand, the bad cholesterol, also known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein), is the type of cholesterol that you want to keep at bay. High levels of bad cholesterol lead to high blood pressure, heart diseases, stroke or death.

With the goal of pushing down the bad cholesterol and pushing up the good cholesterol, try these 5 lifestyle changes.

  1. Lose Weight

If you are overweight, the LDL in your blood is more likely to be at a high level, putting you at a higher risk of developing heart diseases. Losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can significantly help reduce the cholesterol levels in your blood. This process does not happen overnight and not easy. However, it can be made easier by starting in small steps.

In simple ways, try to incorporate physical activities (walking counts!) into your day to day routine. Also, slowly change your diet to a healthier one, adding more vegetables and fruits to it. Being physically active and eating healthy can have a significant impact on your weight, which helps lower LDL cholesterol levels. Moreover, healthy weight plays a vital role in overall heart health.

  1. Choose What You Eat

What you put in your mouth can make a difference in your cholesterol. Be careful with saturated fats, which hide in red meats and dairy products. Physicians recommend less than 7% of your daily calorie intake comes from saturated fat. Choose leaner meats and low-fat dairy products. You can also add monounsaturated fats such as peanuts, olive oil and canola oil to your diet.

Foods to Avoid

Avoid foods that have partially hydrogenated oil. This ingredient is a sign of trans-fat presence, which is typically found in fried foods and commercially baked foods. Also, be careful with foods that are labeled trans-fat free, as it may not necessarily mean 100% trans-fat free. In the United States, any food that contains less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving can have a trans-fat free label on it. Yes, the quantity may sound minimal, but it can add up. Trans-fat increases the LDL or bad cholesterol levels in the body. So carefully check the ingredients on your food for hydrogenated oil.

Generally, the recommended daily consumption for cholesterol is 300 milligrams. For individuals who have diabetes or heart disease, the recommended daily consumption for cholesterol goes down to 200 milligrams. Whole milk products, egg yolks and organ meats like liver are rich in cholesterol. They can be replaced with egg substitutes, skim milk and lean meat cuts.

Foods to Indulge

A cholesterol-lowering and heart-healthy diet does not have to leave you feeling hungry. One of the foods listed on the heart-friendly list is whole grains. Whole grains are super filling and contain fiber that acts as an appetite suppressant, which helps you lose weight and in turn, reduce your cholesterol levels. These fibers also act as natural anticoagulant, which keep the cholesterol from causing blockages in the blood vessels.

According to Harvard Health, consuming whole grains, vegetables and fruits significantly lowers cholesterol, insulin, triglycerides and LDL levels, which in turn decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. You can try some of these delicious and heart-healthy whole-grain combos:

  • Oatmeal with almonds and banana
  • Whole-grain cereal with fresh fruits
  • Whole-grain bread toast with avocado

Also, foods with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce bad cholesterol in the body. These foods may include specific kinds of fish such as mackerel, salmon and herring. Flaxseed, almonds and walnuts are also on the list.

Oatmeal is also known to help combat bad cholesterol as it is high in soluble fiber. This fiber significantly reduces cholesterol absorption in the bloodstream. Other good sources of soluble fiber include prunes, barley, pears, apples and kidney beans.

Having healthy levels of cholesterol does not mean cutting out meat completely. Just focus on allocating the larger portion of the plate to foods that are low glycemic, high in fiber and rich in healthy fats. With a well-balanced diet for lowering cholesterol, you will still enjoy your meal without worrying about your cholesterol level.

  1. Be Active

Being active helps you lose weight, which in turn lowers your cholesterol. You don’t need to run a marathon. Being active just means get moving!

With your doctor’s approval, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Exercise reduces overall cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol. You can also do 10 minute intervals of any physical activity numerous times a day. Studies show that 30 minutes of cardio exercises with intervals increase good HDL cholesterol levels.

Find ways to incorporate exercise into your daily activities. You might be able to do the following: do some walking during your lunch break, ride a bike when going to work, join a sports game, do an early morning run, do some sit-ups while watching the television. If possible, find an exercise partner that can help you or join a group that exercises together.

  1. Stop Smoking

It goes without saying that smoking is bad for your health. Hence, it will be no surprise that it is also harmful for the heart.

Studies show that individuals who quit smoking show significant improvement of their cholesterol levels. In fact, 20 minutes after quitting the habit, your blood pressure will go down. After 24 hours from quitting smoking, your risk of heart attack will also go down. After a year, the risk of getting heart disease will be 50% less than those who smoke. After 15 years, the risk of getting heart disease will drop down to the same level of individuals who have never smoked.

  1. Drink Alcohol Moderately

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke. Hence, doctors recommend one serving of alcoholic beverage a day for men who are 65 years old and older and women of all ages. For men who are under 65 years old, it is recommended to stick to a maximum of two servings of alcoholic beverage a day.

While these lifestyle changes are useful, these may not be enough. If your cholesterol level is too high or if high cholesterol runs through your family history, talk to your doctor to help you come up with an easy to manage treatment plan that works best for you.