Therapeutic lifestyle changes are any adjustments you can make to everyday living in order to become healthier. These adjustments are typically the first recommendations made by your health care provider in an effort to lower your cholesterol. If your cholesterol levels are very high, or if you suffer from a health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, your health care provider may recommend taking cholesterol-lowering medication in addition to making changes to your lifestyle.
The National Cholesterol Education Program has made a list of recommendations to help people learn to change their lifestyles so that they will lower their cholesterol, as well as promote overall good health. They are:
- Losing weight: Being overweight can raise your LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and lower your HDL (“good” cholesterol). Having this combination can be a recipe for disaster, since it places you at high risk for developing heart disease in the future. If you are overweight, even losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight will show a modest improvement in your cholesterol levels. There are plenty of diets and recipes that can help you achieve a healthy weight.
- Increasing your physical activity: Current recommendations suggest that you should exercise at least 30 minutes a day about five times a week. Studies have suggested that doing this will modestly lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Even if you haven’t exercised for a while, some studies have suggested that brisk walking can help lower cholesterol. There are a lot sites on the internet out there to help you find an exercise program that is right for you.
- Modify your diet: The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, or TLC diet, is a diet designed by the National Cholesterol Education Program that is designed to help lower the amount of fat in your diet. Specifically, it is a balanced diet that encourages the consumption of water-soluble fiber, fruits, and vegetables as well as emphasizes the difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats. No matter which specific diet you decide to follow, make sure that it is a healthy one that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein in your diet, and limits your consumption of animal meats, chips, cookies and other junk food.
- Stop smoking: Did you know that smoking lowers HDL, increases oxidized LDL, and accelerates the growth of atherosclerosis, all of which can place you at high risk for heart disease? The good news is that your risk of heart disease may be reversed if you quit smoking now.
Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Dattilo AM, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of weight reduction on blood lipids and lipoproteins: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 1992; 56: 320 – 328.