Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
Ivan V. Pacold, MD, a cardiology professor at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, says that lifestyle choices matter, and “even if these changes don’t show up directly in your cholesterol numbers, they can be lowering your risk for heart disease.” So if you haven’t made the change to a heart-healthy lifestyle, here are nine ways to get started.
Are you pouring up a glass of OJ in the morning? Is your daily caffeine fix a fountain coke at the local gas station? What about that fruity cocktail tempting you at happy hour? Eliminating sweetened beverages from the daily routine is one of the easiest ways to cut thousands of calories or more per week, but will also put years on your life. Water is the best form of hydration and can be flavored with citrus, tropical fruits, and herbs to create a refreshing spa-like oasis that will increase HDL levels when it replaces your typical sugar-sweetened beverages.
If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.
For women after menopause, a study published in August 2016 in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism found that high intensity interval training (on a bicycle) led to better HDL cholesterol levels as well as significant weight loss. And a study published in May 2016 in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that obese men who engaged in aerobic interval training (running on a treadmill) or resistance training (with weights) just three days a week for 12 weeks had significantly increased HDL cholesterol when compared with obese men who did no training.
This healthy recipe pairs well with just about anything -- salmon, chicken, or game meat like bison and venison. It's also a superb go-to for quick-fix lunches or snacks. Ladle some into whole-wheat tortillas stuffed with crunchy veggies. Pour a cup or two into some chicken or vegetable stock for an easy soup. Or blend a big scoop of your beans and rice with a big bowl of lettuce greens and sliced tomatoes for a filling lunch salad.
Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream attached to two different compounds called lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is commonly known as the “bad” cholesterol because it transports cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, and potentially allows it to be deposited in artery walls. HDL, known as the “good cholesterol,” picks up cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or takes it back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body.