Cholesterol Management with Diet Management and Exercise
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in your body and the foods that you eat. Dietary sources of cholesterol come from animal sources such as meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products. Additionally, your liver makes more cholesterol when you eat foods that are high in saturated and trans fats.
Carriers called lipoproteins transport cholesterol through your blood. The two main types are low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered the “bad cholesterol” because they get deposited into your arteries, eventually making them thickened and less flexible. HDL is considered the “good cholesterol” because they help remove the LDL from the arteries, thus protecting your heart.
Your total cholesterol level is composed of your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and 20% of your triglycerides. According to the American Heart association, a total cholesterol level < 180 mg/dL is optimal.
-American Heart Association
Why is High Cholesterol Bad For Your Body?
High cholesterol increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the #1 cause of death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.
Excess cholesterol gets deposited on the walls of your arteries, forming plaques, which restricts blood flow to your tissues. Thus, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. As plaques build up, the arteries begin to thicken and harden leading to a disease called atherosclerosis. Long-term effects include partial or total obstruction of blood flow to your brain, heart, legs, arms, or kidney. The plaques can also break off the walls and block the arteries to vital organs. The result is a heart attack or stroke.
-American Heart Association
What Can You Do About High Cholesterol?
Making lifestyle modifications through your diet and exercise allows you to take control and directly improve your health. A healthy diet and regular exercise should be incorporated even if you are taking medication for high cholesterol. Changing your daily habits may eventually eliminate the need for expensive medication.
The food you eat has a direct impact on your cholesterol level. Certain foods should be eliminated because they will only worsen your health. Foods that are high in cholesterol include red meats and full-fat dairy products. Animal products also contain saturated fats, which can elevate your cholesterol levels. Eliminating trans fat in your diet is recommended because they not only increase your LDL cholesterol but also lower your HDL cholesterol. Sources of trans fat include margarines, commercially baked cookies, crackers, and snack cakes.
Fruits and vegetables are the best options for your diet because they are rich in dietary fiber, which help lower your cholesterol. Studies have shown that a low-carbohydrate vegan diet helped reduce cholesterol levels by 10% and contributed to a greater weight loss compared to a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet in participants over a course of just 6 months. Fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants, which are naturally occurring molecules helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer by fighting free radicals. They are packed with nutrients such as folate, magnesium, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and K. Having a diet consisting mostly of vegetables and fruit will certainly help you lose weight because they are naturally low in saturated fat and calories. In fact, a recent study showed vegans had the lowest serum total cholesterol compared to meat-eaters, fish-eaters, and vegetarians.8Some heart healthy foods include broccoli, green leafy vegetables, oranges, and carrots.
Regular aerobic exercise of 30-60 minutes at moderate to vigorous intensity every day can improve your overall cholesterol levels. The benefits from exercise include raising your body’s HDL cholesterol while lowering your LDL cholesterol. Try taking a brisk walk during your lunch hour or after dinner, riding your bike to work, swimming laps, hiking, or playing your favorite sport. Consider taking the stairs instead of using the elevator. Find a friend to do these activities with to stay motivated.
Multiple studies show that a combination of a healthy diet and regular aerobic exercise effectively raised HDL cholesterol and lowered LDL cholesterol when compared to just diet alone or neither modifications. In fact, aerobic exercise enhances the benefits of a healthy diet on lowering total cholesterol.
1. St. Michael’s Hospital. (2014, May 22). Low-carb vegan diet may reduce heart disease risk, weight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522105136.htm
2. Stefanick, Marcia L., et al. (1998, July 2). Effects of Diet and Exercise in Men and Postmenopausal Women with Low Levels of HDL Cholesterol and High Levels of LDL Cholesterol.New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from
4. Sacks, Frank M. (2013, November 11). Guidelines of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk: A Report.Retrieved October 10, 2014 from
5. American Heart Association. Cholesterol. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/Cholesterol_UCM_001089_SubHomePage.jsp
6. Wedro M.D, Benjamin. (2014, August 19) Lifestyle Cholesterol Management. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/lifestyle_cholesterol_management/article_em.htm
7. Mayo Clinic. (2013, February 12) High Cholesterol, Lifestyle and Home Remedies. Retrieved on October 10, 2014 from
8. Bradbury, Kathryn E., et al, Serum concentrations of cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I, and apolipoprotein B in a total of 1 694 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014; 68, 178-183
9. Fletcher GF, Balady G, Blair SN, et al. Statement on exercise: benefits and recommendations for physical activity programs for all Americans. A statement for health professionals by the Committee on Exercise and Cardiac Rehabilitation of the Council on Clinical Cardiology, American Heart Association.Circulation 1996;94:857–62.