High cholesterol is an issue for many men and women, who may or may not know that excessive cholesterol in the blood can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular disease. That's a genuine concern for many people, as the American Heart Association notes that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Statistics Canada reports that heart disease accounted for 21 percent of all deaths in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics were available), placing it behind only cancer among the leading causes of death in Canada.
The link between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease has long since been established, but the good news is that even men and women with considerably high cholesterol levels can greatly reduce their risk of one day developing cardiovascular disease. Some may need the help of prescription medication to lower their cholesterol, while others might only need to make certain lifestyle changes to lower their cholesterol. Men and women should discuss a plan of attack to lower their cholesterol levels with a physician, who will determine if medication should be a part of the plan. Even if medication is a factor, the following are some lifestyle changes men and women with high or moderate cholesterol levels can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
* Shed those extra pounds. According to the Mayo Clinic, losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can greatly reduce cholesterol levels. There are a number of ways to lose weight, but the most successful way to lose weight and keep it off typically involves adopting a more active lifestyle and coupling that with a healthy diet. The AHA recommends 30 minutes of physical activity each day. This can include any number of activities that get you off the couch and exercising, including walking, biking, swimming, and jogging.
An additional benefit of exercising to lose weight is that it can raise your so-called "good" cholesterol (also known as high-density lipoprotein, or HDL), which can protect you against a heart attack. Many medical experts believe HDL carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the cholesterol is then passed from the body.
* Embrace heart-healthy foods. One of the more effective, yet often most difficult, ways to lower cholesterol is to make dietary changes, forgoing unhealthy fare for more heart-friendly foods. The idea of changing one's diet does not appeal to many people, but a more heart-healthy diet does not have to be devoid of taste. You can still eat red meat and dairy products, but keep them to a minimum, as both red meat and dairy can raise your "bad" cholesterol. Also known as low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, bad cholesterol can combine with other substances to form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible, increasing one's risk of heart attack and stroke. Red meat and dairy tend to have a good deal of saturated fat, which the Mayo Clinic suggests should account for less than 7 percent of your daily caloric intake.
There are many ways to make more heart-healthy dietary choices, some of which include selecting whole grains (including whole wheat pasta and whole wheat flour), loading up on fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber (which can lower cholesterol) and choosing entrees for foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as certain types of fish, which help lower LDL cholesterol.
* Stop smoking. Smokers have a surefire way to reduce their cholesterol, though some may find it more difficult than making any dietary changes. Quitting smoking has an almost immediate impact on the health of your heart, which is at a lower risk of attack within 24 hours of quitting smoking. Within one year of quitting, your risk of heart attack is half that of someone who continues to smoke, and in 15 years your risk of heart disease will be similar to that of someone who has never smoked. In addition, quitting smoking may improve your HDL cholesterol level. Though it might not be easy, quitting smoking might be the most effective way to improve your cholesterol levels while lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease.
More information about lowering your cholesterol is available at www.heart.org.