You may have been told that you need to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and increase your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. While this may sound like a mixed message, in fact it's an excellent way to help lower your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all of the body's cells. It has several healthy functions, including helping to build the cells of your body, and playing a role in the production of sex hormones.
HDL cholesterol is important because it acts as a cholesterol scavenger, picking up excess cholesterol in your blood and taking it back to your liver for disposal. This is why a high HDL level is recommended by health professionals.
HDL may also have other protective effects on your heart and blood vessels, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting effects.
Most people should be aiming for an HDL level of 60 mg/dL, or above. An HDL level below 40 mg/dL increases the risk of heart disease.
Your lifestyle has a huge impact on your HDL cholesterol level. Thankfully though even small changes to your daily habits may lead to an increase in your HDL cholesterol levels.
Here are 5 lifestyle changes to increase your HDL cholesterol:
#1 Maintain a healthy weight
If you are overweight it could be taking a toll on your HDL cholesterol levels.
Simply losing a few pounds can actually improve your HDL level. In fact, for every 2 pounds you lose, your HDL cholesterol may increase by 0.35 mg/dL. Therefore it really is worthwhile trying to lose a few pounds.
#2 Be more physically active
Within two months of beginning frequent aerobic exercise you can expect to increase your HDL cholesterol by around 5 percent.
Try to exercise briskly for 30 minutes, five times each week, and aim to get more than 120 minutes of brisk exercise per week. Good examples of aerobic exercise include walking, cycling, running, swimming, or anything that causes your heart rate to be increased.
Interestingly, a 2007 review suggested that it was the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, which was the most important factor in raising HDL cholesterol.
#3 Choose healthier fats
Between 25 and 35 percent of your total daily calories can come from fat, however saturated fat should be less than 7 percent of your total daily calories.
Try to avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fats, as these can raise LDL cholesterol. Trans fat are found in some margarine, and commercially baked products, or anything that contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Check food labels carefully.
Go for spreads and oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, these can be found in olive, peanut and canola oils, for example. Nuts and oily fish are excellent choices for helping to improve your LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio.
#4 Drink alcohol in moderation
Some studies have indicated that moderate alcohol intake may be linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol. However, the benefits are certainly not strong enough to recommend alcohol use for those who do not drink already.