Has your physician ever told you that you have high cholesterol? Usually the first thought is, “Now what do I do?”. You probably no all about the various types of medications used to reduce cholesterol (we are bombarded with the commercials with the 3 minute warning of side effects that follows), but what can be done with proper nutrition and exercise. Is it even worth the effort?
How do I reduce high cholesterol and what is it?
First you should realize that cholesterol is made up of primarily two different types, HDL and LDL. HDL is the good cholesterol and LDL is the bad. The LDL tends to attach to the arterial wall of your arteries and build up plaque. HDLs try to remove the LDL from the wall of the arteries.
There are certain things we know that have an impact on your cholesterol.
– Being overweight is coorelated with a higher amount of LDL in your blood.
– The more you exercise the more LDL is removed from your blood. This happens because the LDL moves from your blood to your liver due to exercise induced enzymes. Then the cholesterol is converted into bile or excreted.
– Protein particles are responsible for carrying cholesterol through your blood. As you exercise (we will talk about what type of exercise in a moment) these protein particles get larger. These larger protein particles are not able to get into the small linings of the heart and blood vessels, which is safer for you.
– It is said that if your total cholesterol is high (over 200) you double the risk of heart disease vs those with normal cholesterol levels. However, there are many other factors involved, such as age, race, and genetics.
– Exercise can boost your HDL (good cholesterol)
How to Use Exercise to Boost Your HDL (good cholesterol)
One of the most important things to know about exercise and cholesterol is that frequency and intensity have a huge impact on your numbers. You often hear the saying that we should exercise for 30 minutes a day. But what does that really mean and why should we do it?
When it comes to exercise, we are able to increase our HDL (good cholesterol) with proper exercise. So why would you want to increase your HDL? Well, it turns out that the higher your HDL, the more it removes the bad cholesterol from your arteries. It could also reduce the build up of plaque in the arteries. So if you want to protect your heart, you better start working on it.
The national recommendation for exercise is 30 minutes a day. And honestly, if you can start with just 30 minutes of any kind of exercise a day, that is a great start, but it’s not really what they mean. The word you don’t often hear is “moderate”. So you should actually aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. You are probably pretty familiar with light activity (for some of you this would be walking and working around the house), but when you exercise you should aim for an activity that challenges you and is able to get you slightly out of breath at various times during the exercise.
The secret to increasing HDL is to engage in vigorous activity. When you exercise you should strive to get out of breath for short periods of time. Many people enroll in our TONE weight loss fitness program because it is a great way to work on a higher heart rate workout and have fun at the same time. When engaging in cardiovascular and strength training activities it is essential that you are spending some time at an increased heart rate.
Using Nutrition to Lower Your Cholesterol
Your nutritional intake also plays a large role in your success of lowering your cholesterol numbers. You often hear “diet” associated with nutrition programs, but when you are trying to control your cholesterol, a diet simply won’t work. A diet is a short term change in eating habits intended to change the body in some way. After this people get off the temporary diet because they are sick of it and they have accomplished their intended goal (or simply given up on it). The recommendations below have nothing to do with a diet. If you intend to change your cholesterol, and keep it down, you have to be willing to stick with these habits as long as you want your cholesterol numbers to stay down. And let’s face it, raising and lowering your cholesterol numbers does not sound like a good idea to anyone.
Reduce Sugar and Flour – There are many steps that are involved in eating healthier, so start with this one. Begin reducing the amount of sugar and flour you consume. If you are unsure what items have flour and sugar, it is typically on the nutritional label. The foods you see in the center of the grocery store, restaurants you venture to, and numerous other hidden items are often littered with added sugar and flour. It would surprise you if you knew how many items add additional sugar (or sugar substitutes) for no reason other than to appeal to your sweet tooth (breads, salad dressings, crackers, pasta sauce, bbq sauce, etc…). Work hard to greatly reduce your intake of sugar and flour in your diet. It won’t be easy (sugar is highly addictive), but you have to start the process. If you have to, add more natural fruits to your diet. They at least have fiber for your diet. Speaking of fiber…
Eat Soluble Fiber – Fiber is so important for your diet and for lowering your cholesterol. You will find fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc… In other words, things that grow, not things that are made in a factory. Women you need to consume at least 25 grams per day, and men you need to consume 38 grams per day. How much do you actually consume? If you are the average American you consume 10 – 15 grams a day. Add foods with fiber to every meal throughout your day.
Eat Some Nuts – We often fall in to the trap that fat is bad for us, and that is just not true. Add healthy nuts to your diet (almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts), but try to avoid ones that are packaged, roasted, or filled with various flavorings. Many of the salted and sweetened nuts you find in grocery stores are just added calories.
Limit your nut intake to one serving at a time (about 20 – 24 almonds or one ounce). This is not the time to sit down with a bowl of nuts and consume them. Just have one portion at a time.
Reduce/Eliminate refined carbohydrates – In the same vein as reducing sugar and flour, find ways to reduce your refined carbohydrate intake. It’s important that you become accustomed to consuming whole, healthy foods for your body instead of processed foods that do not benefit your health.
If you want to get on a proper nutrition plan to improve your cholesterol, contact us about meeting with our Katy Registered Dietitian (RD).