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High cholesterol can block blood vessels, slow down respiration and lead to high blood pressure or even heart disease. However, lowering cholesterol levels can feel like an uphill struggle – not least because there is so much conflicting advice out there.
Follow these guidelines to find your way through the maze…
1. Eat smart
Learn how to read nutrition labels and get to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats – saturated and trans fats are the ones to steer clear of – to help follow a low-cholesterol diet. Focus on eating more fruit and vegetables, too. They’re a great source of fibre, which helps fill you up, control your weight and, most importantly, has been shown to help lower high cholesterol.
The goal is to eat at least five servings a day, and the ideal balance is three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. And don't forget about beans – the soluble fibre they contain is extremely effective for lowering bad cholesterol.
Finally, eat more oily fish: fillets of tuna and salmon are rich sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides (unsaturated fat) in the blood and heart.
2. Minimise stress
In addition to affecting you emotionally, stress has been shown to raise blood pressure and contribute to coronary heart disease. Start by identifying your biggest sources of stress. Not enough help around the house from the rest of the family? Boss sending you emails after 6pm?
Then do all you can to find ways to ease those stressors: deep breathing, meditation and exercise are all tried-and-true heart-healthy stress reducers.
3. Weigh in
Controlling your weight is an important part of controlling your cholesterol level. A good start is to monitor your portion sizes and adjust as needed – a portion of starchy carbohydrates, such as potato or pasta, should only be about half the size of a tennis ball. A heart-healthy portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of playing cards. Fill in the gaps with lots of legumes, vegetables and fruit.
4. Get moving
Regular aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and protects you from heart disease. Being in the aerobic zone requires working out at a moderate intensity – enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. To check if you’re at the right level, you should be able to talk comfortably but struggle to sing the words to a song. The good news is that as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking every day is enough to reap real benefits.
5. Laugh often
According to a study carried out by the American Physiological Society, a good laugh helps increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as ‘good cholesterol’ because it helps your body get rid of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which can block blood vessels. Add some comic relief to your life by checking out silly animal or baby videos online, signing up for a joke-a-day email, or relaxing with your favourite funny film or TV programme.
6. Think dental
Good oral health helps keep your heart healthy too, as chronic inflammation of the gums has been linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Clean your teeth twice a day with Oral-B Pro Expert Deep Clean Toothpaste for healthy teeth, gums and heart.
What’s your top tip for lowering your cholesterol levels? Let us know in the comments section below.