Avoid a sedentary lifestyle, maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking… These are how to avoid high cholesterol, according to experts.
According to the CDC, 38% of American adults have dangerously high cholesterol. “If your cholesterol is high, the extra cholesterol in your body builds up in your arteries,” says Jaime Burkle, MD. “Over time, that plaque buildup can narrow the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to move from your heart to the rest of the body. This puts you at risk of serious health issues, including heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.” Here are 3 ways to avoid high cholesterol, according to the CDC.
1. Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
The CDC recommends making regular physical activity a part of every day—and health officials warn against too much sitting throughout the day.
“A large review of studies published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that even after adjusting for physical activity, sitting for long periods was associated with worse health outcomes including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer,” says Erin Donnelly Michos, MD, MHS. “Sedentary behavior can also increase your risk of dying, either from heart disease or other medical problems. Even if you’re doing 30 minutes per day of physical activity, it matters what you do the other 23 hours of the day.”
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight is strongly correlated with high levels of LDL cholesterol, doctors warn. “Understanding why some people have high cholesterol and some do not has a lot to do with the interplay of your genes coupled with your environment,” says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Your genes and your environment—in this case, what you eat and how much you exercise—combine to form a baseline risk for developing high cholesterol. If you eat a diet that is high in fat, like high-fat meats, fried foods and high-fat cheeses, you are increasing your risk of both obesity and high cholesterol.
3. Stop smoking
Smoking is strongly correlated with high LDL cholesterol, doctors say. “Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking really truly is one of the worst things we could do, not just for your heart, but for your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. “It’s really bad for your lungs. But these risk factors are additive. So you smoke and you have high cholesterol, you have now doubled your risk. You smoke, you have high blood pressure, and you have cholesterol, it’s additive. It’s really additive. So it’s really important for your children, for yourself, for your longevity, but for your quality of life that you don’t smoke.”
4. Habits that cause high cholesterol
Eating a high-fat diet
You can lose a lot of weight on keto, but its concentration on fatty, high-cholesterol foods may put your heart at risk. “Many people follow a diet not realizing that this insidiously raises their cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Danielle Kelvas, a Tennessee-based physician. “I frequently see patients switch to ketogenic diets, but they eat enormous amounts of fatty red meat, cheese, and eggs. All of these foods contain high levels of cholesterol. Be sure to focus more on fish and lean meats like turkey and chicken. I also see vegetarians who reach for high-fat fried foods such as chips, and cholesterol-dense food such as pizza and cheese.”
Eating Ultra-Processed Food
“Eating highly processed foods, foods with trans fats, and a lot of animal products and processed meats increase bad LDL cholesterol levels,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of the book Recipe for Survival. “Ultra-processed foods are often high in calories and fats, and low in fiber and nutrients. This combination can raise cholesterol levels and triglycerides. It also increases fat deposition in the liver, which can increase cholesterol levels.” Avoiding trans fat, and limiting saturated fat and high-cholesterol foods while emphasizing whole foods like fruits and vegetables is the best course for your heart, cholesterol numbers and overall health.
Eating Too Much Sugar
“Although fats have long been the culprit for high cholesterol numbers, it is now clear that high glucose levels are a major contributor to high cholesterol,” says Jakob Roze, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist in New York City. “Consuming excess sugars puts an individual at the greatest risk for high blood sugar levels. When blood glucose levels are high for a long period of time, the hormone called insulin which clears glucose from the blood becomes resistant to clearing this excess sugar. Insulin resistance causes numerous metabolic changes, one of the most significant being raising LDL cholesterol and hardening artery walls.”
“This doesn’t get talked about much, but chronic stress has been associated with high cholesterol, high LDL in particular,” says Jessica Cording, RD, MS, CDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. Stress taxes the immune system, which can negatively affect the entire body. To reduce stress, exercise regularly, try relaxation exercises like meditation and mindfulness, make time for things you enjoy, and if you still can’t chill out, talk with your doctor.