High cholesterol remains one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease in adults. But did you know? Not all cholesterol is bad for you. In fact, good and bad cholesterol both play a significant role in your health profile. Unfortunately, many remain completely unaware of their risk for heart disease, and therefore unable to make necessary lifestyle changes that can help.

Talking with your doctor about your cholesterol levels is critical to maintaining a healthy body and heart. Your doctor can conduct necessary lab work to pinpoint the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Most of your body’s cholesterol is LDL (low-density lipoprotein), also called “bad cholesterol. When there is too much of it, plaque buildup can form on your blood vessels, causing them to narrow. Without proper flow of blood to and from your heart, your risk for heart disease, angina, and stroke increases, as well.

However, your HDL (high-density lipoprotein) – or “good cholesterol” – is responsible for absorbing cholesterol and transporting it to the liver, where it is flushed out of the body. This cholesterol is actually beneficial, helping to ward off heart disease and related illnesses. Lifestyle choices – like changes to diet and weight loss – can help to improve your HDL levels.

Here are four heart-healthy tips to improve your cholesterol numbers.

  1. Eat better. It can be tough but avoiding man-made trans fats commonly found in fried and processed foods like chips and snack cakes is a critical starting point. Consumption of saturated fats found in most meats and dairy products should also be kept to a minimum. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have been shown to boost your good HDL cholesterol when consumed in moderation. These are found in fish, like salmon and trout, as well as nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans. Pumpkin seeds are also high in unsaturated fats.
  2. Exercise more: Even just an hour of moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the most common kind of fat in your body, triglycerides. Not only that, but it increases your HDL numbers WHILE helping you achieve a healthier weight.
  3. Don’t smoke – at all. If you’re a smoker, quit. Increased LDL levels, and therefore increased risk of heart disease, is just one more reason that smoking is bad, bad, bad, bad for you. Talk to your doctor if you are having a hard time kicking the habit.
  4. Leverage technology: Multiple smartphone apps and fitness wearables are now available to help you track your levels and alert you to the need to make applicable lifestyle changes.

Of course, the first step in determining how cholesterol is impacting your life should be scheduling an appointment with your family doctor. Quality First is open daily for routine medical and urgent care needs.