We all want to be heart-healthy, and ensuring healthy levels of cholesterol — a fat, or lipid, carried through the bloodstream — is the first step.
Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol contributes to plaque buildup along with triglycerides, another lipid. High-density lipoprotein or HDL (good) cholesterol discourages plaque buildup. Plaque can threaten the blood supply to the heart, brain, legs or kidneys, leading to heart attack, stroke or even death.
The preventive cardiology team in Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute is dedicated to making sure these medical emergencies never occur. Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, of the Weigh to a Healthier Heart Program, and exercise physiologist Michael Crawford, MS, cardiac rehabilitation supervisor, share these eight tips — four for lowering cholesterol through diet and four for making the most of exercise:
1. Cut back on animal fats
Forgo fatty meats, such as chicken or turkey with the skin; processed meats, such as bologna, salami and pepperoni; and fatty red meats, such as ribs and prime cuts of beef, pork, veal or lamb. Also avoid full-fat dairy products such as cheese, cream, sour cream, cream cheese and butter. These foods contain saturated fat as well as cholesterol — both associated with higher blood cholesterol and plaque buildup.
2. Make friends with fiber
Specifically, get friendly with foods high in soluble fiber. In the gut, soluble fiber can bind to bile (which is made up of cholesterol) and remove it. Look for soluble fiber in oats, flaxseed, barley, dried beans and legumes, fruits and root vegetables, as well as some whole-grain cereals, cereal bars and pastas.
3. Go veggie
Choose at least one meatless meal per week. Substitute beans, tofu or nuts for red meat or poultry in a bean burrito or a tofu stir-fry to decrease your saturated fat intake and increase your fiber intake. Shoot for one meatless meal — breakfast, lunch or dinner — per day!
4. Be a loser
If you’re overweight or obese, shed the extra pounds. Weight loss helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Even a small-to-moderate weight loss — just 10 to 20 pounds — can make an impact.
5. Move more
Work up to 90 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per day for optimum heart health and weight loss. Cardiovascular exercise means any activity that uses large muscles repetitively and increases the heart rate. Think walking, cycling, rowing, using the elliptical and swimming. If you find 90 minutes daunting, start with 30 minutes and work your way up a little at a time. For some people, 45 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise is enough.
6. Pick the right tempo
Aim for a moderate level of exercise. You’ll know you’ve reached it when you are able to carry on a conversation when you exercise, but can’t sing. Higher-intensity (more difficult) exercise is better at raising good (HDL) cholesterol. However, it also increases your risk of injuries, making it harder to continue exercising. Moderate intensity is preferable.
7. Make a habit of it
Consistency is the key. Work out regularly and you’ll watch your triglyceride levels drop. Triglycerides are the only lipid in the cholesterol profile used for energy. They decrease an average of 24 percent with regular cardiovascular exercise.
8. Change it up
Variety is the spice of life, so try different exercises to stay motivated, to challenge other muscle groups, to reduce the risk of overuse injuries and to enjoy your physical activity.
Note: If you have heart disease, check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. A cardiac rehab program is a great way to learn the right exercises for you and jump-start your diet and exercise program. If you experience chest pain, pressure, tightness, excessive shortness of breath, lightheadedness or palpitations, stop exercising and consult a doctor.