An unhealthy cholesterol level is one of the four leading risk factors for coronary artery disease, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While some people are genetically prone to high cholesterol, many contributing factors are preventable. By maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you can improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Lowering Bad Cholesterol
Lowering your bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is important for heart health. Foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes contain fiber, which can reduce low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, in your bloodstream. Nuts and other foods rich in unsaturated fats are also valuable for lowering the total cholesterol in your blood. Physical activity can lower your triglyceride level, reducing the risk of coronary artery disease.
Raising Good Cholesterol
Raising good cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins, can be just as important, or more important than lowering bad cholesterol. Weight loss is important for raising high-density lipoproteins, or HDL. Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna and salmon, or taking fish-oil supplements can also help raise HDL. However, the most important factor for raising HDL is regular aerobic activity, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Obesity, or having too much body fat, raises your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL levels. The only way to lose weight is to start burning more calories than you take in. Exercise and eating healthy will help you control your weight. Reducing your intake of foods high in fat, especially saturated fat, help you lower cholesterol and lose weight. You can do this by cutting back on red meat, full-fat dairy products and cooking oils high in saturated fat.
Replacing Saturated Fat
Not all fat is bad for your cholesterol. Unsaturated fats found fish and olive oil can lower your bad cholesterol while raising your good cholesterol, or at least leaving it in tact. Replacing foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and butter, with unsaturated fats, such as fish and olive oil, can help you lose weight and lower total cholesterol. However, just because unsaturated fats have health benefits, it does not mean you should eat an unlimited amount. Unsaturated fats should simply be used to replace saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are also high in calories, and eating too much can lead to obesity.
Physical inactivity is one of the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. It is on the same level as smoking, unhealthy cholesterol and high blood pressure. The benefits of exercise depend on duration, frequency and intensity. The more you exercise and the more intense it is, the more weight you can lose and the more you can improve cholesterol. But don't overdo it at the beginning. It's best to slowly build an exercise program. Even moderately intense physical activities, such as brisk walking, jogging or cycling, can improve cholesterol levels.