5 tips to control cholesterol
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you’re not alone. One-third of all Americans have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and half of them aren’t seeking treatment.
Our bodies need cholesterol – a waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and other cells and found in certain foods – but too much can build up inside our arteries as fatty deposits called plaque. According to the American Heart Association, if this plaque clogs an artery, it can result in heart attack or stroke.
Total cholesterol is made up of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) and triglycerides, which are another type of lipid found in blood.
Dr. Sheela Swamy, an internal medicine specialist who treats patients at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., recommends these five tips to her patients to control cholesterol levels:
- Watch what you eat. Dieting doesn’t have to be all about avoiding food you like. Focus on a low-saturated-fat, trans fat-free and low-cholesterol diet to lower your numbers. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish and low-fat dairy and less processed foods, red meat and full-fat dairy. A diet rich in these so-called “superfoods” can reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
- Stay active. Regular exercise helps boost HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. To get these benefits, shoot for 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity – such as jogging, biking and swimming – five days a week. It’s always best to consult your physician before starting an exercise program.
- Maintain a normal weight. Being overweight or obese can cause your HDL cholesterol levels to go down and your LDL levels to go up. Losing weight can do the opposite; just dropping 5 or 10 pounds can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Strive for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9; numbers vary according to age and gender.
- Stop smoking. When smokers kick the habit, their HDL cholesterol levels tend to increase.
- Consider medication. Your physician might prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications, called statins, to lower LDL cholesterol. These medications have made a tremendous impact on reducing heart disease over the past 20 years.
“It’s never too late to take small steps to lower your cholesterol,” Dr. Swamy says. “Make heart health a priority and your body will thank you.”
For more information on heart health and to take Advocate’s heart risk assessment, visit iHeartAdvocate.com.
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About the Author
Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children’s Hospital. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.