Ways You Can Lower Your High Cholesterol

If you have high cholesterol, getting your cholesterol levels to a normal range is important for your heart health. There are many ways to lower your cholesterol, and some involve making just a few simple changes to your lifestyle.

If your cholesterol levels are not budging despite leading a healthy lifestyle, you may need to take medication. For many people, cholesterol-lowering medications can prevent heart disease and lower the risk of the life-threatening complications of high cholesterol.

1

Exercise Regularly

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Exercise has been proven to modestly lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, as well as boost your “good” cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

So what should you aim for when developing a physical activity routine?

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Start slowly: The key to incorporating more exercise is to start with what you can manage, and build up from there. You can start with as little as 15 to 20 minutes a day of light activity, such as walks or swimming. Once you get into the swing of things, you can scale up your activity.
  • Weekly activity: You want to eventually get to at least 150 minutes of light to moderate activity per week. This is about 30 minutes a day—not including warm-up and cool down—on five of the seven days.
  • Intensity: Ideally, you want to push yourself without overexertion. When working out, you should be able to converse without losing your breath too much. In that vein, you shouldn’t be able to sing while exercising. It can be helpful to take a fitness class or work with a trainer to help you reach your goals.
2

Consume a Healthy Diet

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What you eat has a great deal of influence over your cholesterol levels, so changes in diet can go a long way in managing them. Several diets are known to help lower cholesterol, including the Mediterranian diet, the DASH diet, and the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet.

According to the American College of Cardiology scientific meeting, the Mediterranean Diet is the dietary eating pattern with the most evidence behind it for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Keys to these approaches are:

  • Healthier fats: Aim to reduce intake of saturated fats, found in foods like beef, pork, cheese, and bacon. Instead, consider sources of healthy, unsaturated fat, such as nuts, fish, beans, skinless poultry, and soy. Also, avoid trans fats, which are found in fast food, fried foods, and processed foods.
  • Fiber: Foods high in soluble fiber, like leafy greens, whole grain bread, and beans, reduce the cholesterol that’s absorbed by your digestive system.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: Diets rich in fresh fruits and vegetables provide plant stanols, which, like fiber, can help prevent the absorption of cholesterol.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These polyunsaturated fats help raise HDL cholesterol without raising LDL. Salmon, tuna, and other fish are excellent sources of omega 3s, and flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are also good sources.
  • Salt (sodium): If your sodium intake is high, you’re at a higher risk of heart disease. It’s currently recommended you eat less than 2,300 mg, or about a teaspoon, a day. Be wary of packaged foods, as these often have more salt.
  • Sugars: Keep added sugars to a minimum. Watch out for ingredients like glucose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and sucrose (among others) when you buy packaged foods. Limit or cut out cakes, cookies, and other candies.
3

Get Your Diabetes and Other Health Conditions Under Control

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Some other health conditions can contribute to high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, including:

Make sure you are consistent with your treatment and see your doctor regularly for routine monitoring of your condition (such as thyroid levels or glycosylated hemoglobin testing).

Studies have also linked chronic stress with high cholesterol, so figuring out healthy ways to manage stress can also help you manage your cholesterol levels.

Approaches to reduce stress include:

  • Improving sleep quality
  • Meditation and exercise
  • Seeking support from family and friends
  • Getting treatment for mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression
  • Developing strategies to manage anger
4

Stop Smoking

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Smoking causes lung disease, and can also affect your heart. Smoking has also been linked to high cholesterol levels, and a substance in tobacco smoke called acrolein can react with LDL and contribute to atherosclerosis, which can eventually occlude blood vessels.

5

Take Medication If You Need It

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Many medications on the market have been proven to help lower cholesterol levels, as well as prevent heart disease and death. Ideally, these medications should be used along with lifestyle modification.

Several classes of drugs may be prescribed:

If you’ve been prescribed any of these medications, make sure you stick to your doctor’s orders and be aware of side effects or adverse reactions.

In very rare cases, especially when high cholesterol is genetic, medications and lifestyle changes will still be insufficient. A procedure called lipoprotein apheresis may be employed. This involves using specialized medical equipment to remove cholesterol from the blood.

6

Investigate the Possibility of Using Supplements

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Supplements may also modestly help lower your cholesterol, but there isn’t a lot of research available regarding these supplements.

Before you venture out to the herbal aisle, discuss your plans with your doctor. Some supplements can interact with other medications you may already be taking. Additionally, some of these supplements do not work for everyone.

Popular supplements include:

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Barone Gibbs B, Hivert MF, Jerome GJ, et al. Physical activity as a critical component of first-line treatment for elevated blood pressure or cholesterol: who, what, and how?: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2021;78(2):e26-e37. doi:10.1161/HYP.0000000000000196

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Cholesterol-lowering exercise tips.

  3. National Library of Medicine. How to lower cholesterol with diet.

  4. Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019;139(25):e1082-e1143. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000625

  5. Bergmann N, Gyntelberg F, Faber J. The appraisal of chronic stress and the development of the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Endocr Connect. 2014;3(2):R55-R80. doi:10.1530/EC-14-0031

  6. Henning RJ, Johnson GT, Coyle JP, Harbison RD. Acrolein can cause cardiovascular disease: a review. Cardiovasc Toxicol. 2017;17(3):227-236. doi:10.1007/s12012-016-9396-5

  7. Cleveland Clinic. Cholesterol: types, tests, treatments, prevention.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.