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8 lifestyle changes to help lower your cholesterol
As we enter the season of shorter days and darker nights, we tend to stay at home and move towards eating more comforting foods to get us through this chilly time of the year.
Although foods such as pies, cheese, biscuits and cakes taste incredible, they can also have a nasty effect on our cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that we all need for our bodies to function properly, there are two main types of cholesterol: good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Unfortunately for us most of the comfort foods that we love contain too much bad cholesterol, which can increase our risk of health problems in the future, including heart disease and stroke.
So now that we know that these tasty treats can have long term damage to our bodies, here’s the good news! There are many lifestyle changes that you make to your overall daily routine, ranging from a healthier diet to managing your overall well being.
If you do have concerns around your cholesterol, we would advise that you visit your GP alongside trying some of the tips below.
What can you do to lower your cholesterol levels?
Time to get active!
Getting active is an all-round effective way to increase your physical and mental wellbeing. Exercising for around 2 and a half hours every week can improve your cholesterol as it helps raise the good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
If you haven’t exercised regularly in a while, it may be a little bit scary trying to figure out where to start, but there are many ways you can fit in exercise to your daily routine.
You can start by taking a brisk walk each day and slowly build yourself up to jogging sections of it, as long as you are putting in the effort to raise your heartbeat and break a sweat, you’re doing great!
Try different sports and activities to find your favourite and start enjoying working towards a healthier you.
Know your fats
Keeping track of the various types of fat in your diet can be confusing, but when it comes to healthy cholesterol levels, you should monitor the amount saturated and trans fats you consume.
Saturated fats are found mainly in red meats and full-fat dairy products such as cheese and cream, and trans fats can be found in treats like cakes and biscuits.
By making a few changes to your diet such as replacing red meat for a vegetarian option a few times a week, you can help reduce your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.
Making these small lifestyle changes can make a big difference, but there will still be times when the craving of a burger or a morning fry up may prove too strong. If you do eat these types of food, try and change your cooking methods from roasting and frying to grilling or steaming, reducing the amount of total fat you consume.
Five a day
Just like exercising, eating the right amount of nutritious fruits and vegetables is a key pillar of staying healthy.
Trying to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is an excellent way to get the right amount of nutrients and vitamins that your body needs to function properly. Fruit and vegetables are naturally low in calories and rich in fibre that can help lower your cholesterol.
Eating higher levels of fruits and vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and decreased blood pressure and cholesterol. We know that sometimes a cookie will be more satisfying than an apple, but try to make small swaps in your diet to ensure you eat the right amount of healthy fruit and veg.
As we mentioned with eating the right amount of fruit and veggies, adding the right amount of fibre to your diet can help lower your cholesterol.
Next time you are at the supermarket, look at swapping some of your usual purchases for products such as porridge, beans, lentils and wholemeal bread. These foods are high in soluble fibre that can reduce how much cholesterol is absorbed into your bloodstream.
It’s recommended that adults try and consume 30g of fibre a day, so if you have been eating low amounts of fibre, start to build up your intake gradually as eating too much can cause bloating.
In the UK, we are really lucky to be surrounded by an incredible variety of locally sourced seafood.
Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, salmon and sardines can give our heart health a boost, helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol as an alternative to eating red meat.
Try and make the switch to oily fish 2-3 times a week to feel the benefits of a more nutritious, heart-healthy dinner.
Let’s go nuts
By eating a handful of nuts in your daily diet, you can benefit from an extra source of soluble fibre and plant sterols that can help to reduce the levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in your bloodstream.
Unfortunately, we aren’t talking about our favourite type of nuts that are usually accompanied by a nice pint of beer, but almonds, pecans and walnuts that can help fight heart disease.
Remember, most nuts are high in calories, so a small handful a day will be enough for the extra health-kick.
Cut the habits
Smoking and drinking can become coping mechanisms for many of us when life starts to become more stressful, we may even overindulge in both whilst socialising.
Unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking can give us short term mood boosts, but long-term can leave us with more problems than we started with.
Smoking can raise the bad (LDL) levels of cholesterol in your body and the empty calories in alcohol can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease.
Moderating the amount of alcohol and how often you drink can improve your overall health and make you less likely to suffer from high cholesterol.
Just like smoking and drinking, stress can start to have long term implications on our overall health.
When you’re stressed, your cholesterol rises rapidly, combined with some of the unhealthier stress coping mechanisms such as eating junk food or drinking too much after a long stressful day.
You need to allow yourself time to de-stress healthily, focusing on the things that make your mind and body happy, such as talking to loved ones, relaxing with one of your hobbies or getting active.
Got more questions around your cholesterol levels? We’re here for you, drop us an email at [email protected] and we’ll try and cover your questions in future blogs and in our Ask A Pharmacist video series.