6 lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of high cholesterol

Two in five Australian adults have high cholesterol, and if you’re among them, here are the lifestyle changes doctors are urging you to adopt.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance in our blood essential for building healthy cells, hormones and vitamin D.

There are two main types – high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol.

Too much of the bad stuff can clog arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, says Heart Foundation healthcare programs manager Natalie Raffoul.

Almost 42 per cent of Australian adults are living with high cholesterol. 

“There are about 6.5 million Australians living with high cholesterol, but there may be many more that are unaware, which is why we call it the silent killer,” Natalie says.

If you’re worried about high cholesterol, here are six behaviours doctors want you to avoid.

1. Eating too much fat

Cardiologist and executive director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Professor Jason Kovacic says saturated fats can increase LDL levels.

“Saturated fats are more likely to be found in animal-based products, including red meat, butter and cheese,” Prof Kovacic says.

Natalie says eating more wholegrains, vegetables and healthy proteins, and cutting back on saturated fats, will help keep cholesterol at bay.

2. Not getting enough exercise

Prof Kovacic says exercise helps to increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. 

“Regular exercise can also help to reduce weight, which is another risk factor,” he says.

He recommends following the Australian health guidelines of 2.5 to five hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (ideally spread over most days).

3. Being overweight

Research shows carrying extra kilos can be a sign that your LDL levels are too high.

“Obesity can lower HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol and triglycerides – the most common type of fat in the body,” Prof Kovacic says.

Being overweight or obese can also be linked to lifestyle behaviours that raise cholesterol, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, he says.

4. Not controlling stress

Prof Kovacic says studies have shown a link between stress and cholesterol, though the reason is not yet clear.

“One theory is that stress hormones trigger an increase in the production of cholesterol,” he says.

“Stress may also be linked to coping strategies such as eating foods that are high in saturated fat, drinking alcohol and smoking.”

5. Smoking

If you need another reason to butt out, Natalie says the damage smoking causes to your blood vessels makes it easier for fatty deposits to stick and clog your arteries.

“The strong message here is – for so many reasons – don’t smoke, or take the necessary steps to quit,” she says. 

6. Drinking too much

Natalie says when it comes to alcohol, moderation is the key.

“Alcohol can increase the level of bad cholesterol and triglycerides and this raises your risk of heart attack,” she says.

“If you are going to drink, you should limit it to no more than 10 standard drinks a week, or four on any given day.” 

Written by Dimity Barber.