To get control of high cholesterol, think about the things that affect your cholesterol level, such as your diet and the amount of physical exercise you reeive, then set up a practical plan to make the changes you need to lower your level.
If you are like the average adult, you eat as much fat as is in a stick of margarine every day. That kind of diet raises your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you had to remember just one thing about a healthy diet, it would be to eliminate fats as much as possible, especially saturated fat, rather than just going on a "low-cholesterol" diet.
Lowering fat in your diet will make it much easier for your body to lose excess weight and lower your high cholesterol. That means saturated fat, trans-fatty acids and cholesterol found in marbled meat, poultry with the skin, fried food, full-fat dairy products and commercially prepared baked goods. Federal guidelines say to keep saturated fat at 10 percent or less of total calories; 7 percent or less for people with high blood cholesterol. The National Academy of Sciences has advised keeping trans-fat as low as possible, while advice for cholesterol from the American Heart Association is to limit it to 300 milligrams per day -- about that found in one egg yolk.
We have included two diet examples which are designed to reduce fat and cholesterol to levels recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP). The NCEP is made up of 40 private and governmental groups coordinated by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Both diets have the following goals:
- Decrease total dietary fat, especially saturated fat
- Increase intake of fiber and
- Decrease dietary cholesterol
- Decrease calories if needed to reach a healthy body weight
- Limit sodium intake
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that combining a low-fat diet with regular physical activity significantly improved cholesterol levels in people at increased risk of heart disease. When you adopt a healthy diet and exercise program together, you get a tremendous benefit.
The study followed 197 men, ages 30 to 64, and 180 postmenopausal women, ages 45 to 64, who had unhealthy cholesterol levels, moderately elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: an aerobic exercise group that walked or jogged the equivalent of about 10 miles per week, a diet group that was placed on the National Cholesterol Education Program''s Step 2 diet (the stricter of its recommended low-fat diets), a diet-plus-exercise group and a control group.
After one year, the diet group had reduced their intake of dietary fat and cholesterol, yet showed no reduction in LDL levels. But the diet-plus-exercise group experienced a 15 point reduction in LDL levels among the women and a 20-point reduction among the men.
"This finding highlights the importance of physical activity in the treatment of elevated LDL cholesterol levels."
Researchers were surprised that they didn''t see improvements in HDL cholesterol among the exercise group, since this was a well documented effect of regular aerobic activity. "It''s probably because the exercise group wound up eating a little more and didn''t lose weight," Stefanick says. Yet even though the exercisers didn''t lose weight, their fitness improved significantly, as evidenced by a drop in resting heart rates.
Regular physical activity has a very important part to play in maintaining healthy blood cholesterol levels. Eating well is part of it, but if you don''t work hard to keep you calorie consumption in check, you''re going to get heavier. Physical activity burns calories, and fitness is especially important to maintain weight that has been lost.
Aim for a healthier weight: Losing even a few pounds if you''re overweight is one of the most powerful ways to reduce blood cholesterol levels. "People can lose just 8 to 10 pounds and have a dramatic improvement in their blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, even if they don''t reach their target weight, even if they still need to lose 80 pounds more," says Judith Hsia, director of the Lipids Research Clinic at George Washington University. As Hsia notes, "it doesn''t cost money to eat less."
The most commonly stated goal for healthy exercise is 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week. It is important to remember that your heart is a muscle and like any other muscle, it needs to stay active.
You should always consult your doctor and ask what exercise program is right for you.