You may have heard that high blood levels of LDL cholesterol can be hard on your health – and for good reason. Medical research has shown that elevated LDL levels can significantly bump up the odds of getting a heart attack (as higher amounts of LDL in the blood can clog your arteries with cholesterol plaques).
However, on a cheerier note, there are very practical things you can do to keep your LDL levels in check and protect your well-being. Consider, for example, these 4 ways to do that.
(1) Get enough exercise
In numerous studies, regular exercise has proven to be quite effective at reducing LDL cholesterol levels. Some discoveries in this area suggest that exercise can coax your skeletal muscles to burn lipids like LDL for fuel – instead of just glycogen (a form of glucose which muscles primarily use for energy).
Most research indicates that what matters most for dropping LDL levels is the amount of exercise, rather than the intensity. And – in terms of the type of exercise – it appears that aerobic exercise and resistance training are both effective at lowering LDL levels.
So, word to the wise: if you’re looking to optimize your cholesterol levels, consider taking up a regular exercise schedule – and try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5x a week.
(2) Maintain a healthy body weight
Obesity is a risk factor for higher-than-normal LDL levels – and particularly for increased levels of small dense LDL.
Small dense LDL (a specific type of LDL) can be especially dangerous to your health since it takes more time for your body to metabolically eliminate these LDL particles compared to other types of LDL. Therefore, small dense LDL particles stay in your blood longer – increasing the likelihood that they’ll clog up your arteries.
Not surprisingly, then, maintaining a healthy body weight can help keep your LDL levels down – including levels of small dense LDL. Exercise, of course, is one good way to maintain a healthy weight (and, as mentioned above, exercise also has a more direct influence on LDL levels through its effect on skeletal muscles).
(3) Avoid saturated fats and fried food
Saturated fats can ramp up your body’s production of LDL, so reducing your consumption of saturated fats can lower LDL levels. (Common sources of saturated fat include pizza, dairy-based desserts, and red meat.)
Some experts recommend replacing saturated fat in one’s diet with fiber-rich foods like fresh fruit and raw vegetables – as well as with foods that have a low glycemic index – as opposed to carbohydrate-rich meals, which can bump up your triglyceride levels. (And high triglyceride levels can put you at a greater risk of heart disease – not to mention other adverse health consequences.)
It may also be a good idea to eat fewer fried foods if you’re aiming to lower your LDL levels. Fried foods typically have a high amount of trans fatty acids (TFA), which elevates the body’s LDL levels.
(4) Curb cigarette smoking
Many different studies have shown that cigarette smoking can hike up LDL levels. It’s possible that smoking causes higher levels of LDL because smoking contributes to insulin resistance. The body must then pump out more insulin into circulation – and because insulin affects molecular pathways that regulate LDL levels, the concentration of LDL in the blood can rise as a result of smoking. So quitting cigarette smoking can significantly improve the body’s LDL levels.
LDL levels that are too high can put the body’s health in danger – so it’s important that one’s LDL levels fall within a normal, healthy range.
An easy, convenient way you can check and monitor your LDL levels is with EverlyWell’s at-home Cholesterol and Lipids Test (this test also measures your triglyceride levels – as well as HDL and total cholesterol levels).
If you learn that you LDL level is not where you would like it to be, making some simple changes – like the ones described above – can help get your LDL levels, and health, on the right track.