Research shows that high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as "good" cholesterol, can protect you against heart disease, heart attacks, and diabetes. HDL acts as an industrial vacuum by cleaning up low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known as "bad" cholesterol, and transporting it back to the liver where it is broken down and passed out of the body. Read on to learn about five lifestyle factors that can help boost your HDL levels.
1. Eat a Healthy Diet
Making modifications to your diet, even after years of unhealthy eating, might help lower your bad cholesterol, improve your good cholesterol, and help you manage your diabetes.
- Avoid unhealthy fats. Healthy eating means avoiding unhealthy fats (such as saturated fat and trans fat) that raise LDL levels and choosing healthier fats instead, such as those found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
- Increase your fiber. Lower your LDL levels with soluble fiber found in foods such as oatmeal, kidney beans, apples, pears, barley, and prunes.
- Eat omega-3 fatty acids. Although foods containing omega-3 fatty acids—such as salmon, halibut, and herring—don't decrease LDL levels, they may reduce your blood pressure and your risk of developing blood clots.
- Find a whey. Whey protein is the protein in dairy that may account for many of its health benefits. As a supplement, whey protein has been found to lower both LDL and total cholesterol.
2. Increase Your Physical Activity
Exercise can help raise HDL, lower triglycerides, and decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes. Doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise per day. In addition to boosting HDL, exercise can help you manage your weight, lower your LDL levels and blood pressure, and improve the fitness of your heart and lungs.
You don't have to be a marathon runner to benefit. The key to success is starting slowly and gradually increasing your physical activity levels. For instance, start by exercising for just 10 minutes a few times a day. You could try taking a brisk walk, going for a brief bike ride, or completing a few laps in a swimming pool. Just remember to talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
Stay motivated with an exercise partner or exercise group, and look for ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. Try taking the stairs rather than the elevator, and if you have a desk job, try to take frequent walks during the day.
3. Watch Your Weight
Extra weight contributes to high cholesterol, but you may be able to reduce your bad cholesterol by losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight. Small changes can make significant differences. Don't eat mindlessly. When you're bored, take a stroll rather than picking up a snack. If you need to snack, grab veggies or air-popped popcorn rather than chips.
Losing weight can be challenging. There is no quick fix. You need to change your eating habits, follow a heart-healthy diet, reduce calories, and become physically active. Work with your doctor to develop a weight-loss plan that's right for you and that fits your lifestyle.
4. Quit Smoking
Researchers have found that quitting smoking is clearly associated with an increase in good cholesterol, and the benefits extend far beyond that.
Within the first 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease. After 12 hours, your carbon monoxide levels return to normal. One year later, your risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half. Five years after quitting, your risk for a stroke is similar to that of a non-smoker.
If you need help quitting smoking, ask your Rite Aid pharmacist about joining our Quit for You program.
5. Drink Alcohol in Moderation
You may have heard that a glass of wine a day keeps the doctor away. While moderate drinking can reduce your risk for heart disease, heavy drinking can cause major health problems. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers, and cause cirrhosis of the liver.
Although red wine has been linked to a boost in HDL levels, nearly all research into the positive benefits makes a clear distinction between moderate drinking and binge drinking. Guidelines suggest no more than one drink a day for women or two a day for men.
By making small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you may be able to raise your good cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease and heart attacks. At the same time, healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet, staying active, and watching your weight may also help you manage your diabetes.
American Heart Association, Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
Mayo Clinic, Top 5 Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Cholesterol
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC
WebMD, Cholesterol and Alcohol
Annals of Internal Medicine, Effects of Initiating Moderate Alcohol Intake on Cardiometabolic Risk in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes
American Heart Association, Smoke-Free Living: Benefits & Milestones
American Diabetes Association, Weight Loss
Mayo Clinic, Diabetes Risk Factors