Control your cholesterol

High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease that can be controlled. Total cholesterol over 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered high cholesterol. Your total cholesterol level is made up of "bad" LDL cholesterol and "good" HDL cholesterol. A desirable level of LDL cholesterol is below 100. If you have a high LDL cholesterol level, you have a higher risk of coronary artery disease. A desirable level of HDL cholesterol is above 40. If you have a low HDL cholesterol level, you have a higher risk of coronary artery disease.

Cholesterol levels are partly affected by diet and lifestyle factors, both of which can be changed to lower cholesterol levels. Changing your diet and lifestyle can be very effective in lowering cholesterol.

  • Eat a low-fat diet with minimal amounts of saturated fats. Meat, cheese, and dairy products are the major sources of saturated fat. Limit your meat intake to only occasional servings of lean beef and chicken or turkey with the skin removed. A low-fat diet can also help you lose weight, which can help control blood pressure too. The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is recommended for people with high cholesterol by the National Cholesterol Education Program of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
  • Increase your intake of fiber, which can lower cholesterol. Fiber is found in legumes (beans), whole-grain breads and cereals, and fresh vegetables.
  • Get enough exercise. Exercise can help control cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar (important if you have diabetes or a family history of diabetes).
    • Try to do at least 2½ hours a week of moderate exercise.1 One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or ballroom dancing.
    • Or, try to do vigorous activity for at least 1¼ hours a week.1 One way to do this is to be active 25 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, or cross-country skiing.
    It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Overall, the evidence supports lowering cholesterol as a step that is good for almost everybody (especially people with heart disease and people at risk for heart disease). It can help lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death in many people who have average to high cholesterol levels.2

Many people need medication in addition to diet and lifestyle changes to reach ideal cholesterol levels.

For more information, see the topic High Cholesterol.

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf.
  2. Lewis SJ, et al. (1998). Effect of pravastatin on cardiovascular events in older patients with myocardial infarction and cholesterol levels in the average range: Results of the Cholesterol And Recurrent Events (CARE) trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 129(9): 681–689.

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