Doctors and researchers have been sounding the alarm on “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) for decades. But when your doctor says you need to lower your cholesterol, what should you do?
The first thing is to make lifestyle changes that promote health and wellness. It’s amazing what difference a lifestyle checkup can have on your overall health — not just your cholesterol levels.
Here are five easy-to-remember cholesterol-lowering tips for seniors to get started:
1. Read Nutrition Labels
When shopping for groceries, check the nutrition labels for the total-fat description, near the top. The American Heart Association recommends that adults follow a diet that has no more than 25 to 35 percent of calories from fat, and no more than 7 percent from saturated fat.
The nutrition label tells you how much total fat is in that product, per serving, and this is broken down into types of fat — including saturated, unsaturated and trans fat. The amount of cholesterol is also listed.
Also, remember to note the number of servings in the package so you don’t inadvertently consume double or triple the amount of fat you expected.
2. Limit Portions
As a society, we love our food — and sometimes we love it so much we can’t stop! Portion control is a vital part of keeping healthy, which includes getting a handle on our cholesterol levels. There are several tricks to reducing the amount of food we eat while still enjoying the delicious foods we love. They include:
- Set a table, even if you’re dining alone.
- Use smaller plates. We tend to fill bigger plates because they look empty.
- Drink an 8-ounce glass of water before and with meals to promote feelings of fullness and keep hydrated. (Often dehydration masks itself as hunger.)
- Chew slowly. Completely chew your food before swallowing. Practice by putting your fork or spoon down between bites.
3. Make Substitutions When Cooking
Many of us have favorite recipes we’ve been making for years. But if these recipes rely on ingredients that increase our cholesterol levels, such as heavy butter or full-fat cream, it’s time to look for some replacements. Add flavor to your foods with herbs and spices rather than salt and fat, bake with whole-wheat flour instead of white and use liquid margarine or margarine in a tub rather than sticks of butter.
4. Reduce Alcohol Intake
You may enjoy some wine, beer or spirits from time to time if you’re not taking medications that say you should avoid alcohol and your doctor hasn’t advised you not to drink. As far as cholesterol goes, this is fine — as long as you drink in moderation. Alcohol has calories, though. And remember: Too much alcohol can affect your liver which can, in turn, affect your cholesterol.
5. Get Moving
We’ve heard it all before: Exercise will help us stay healthy. The reason we hear it so much is because exercise affects our body in many positive ways. Being physically active can help your heart, control your weight, manage stress and even be fun.
If you’ve not been physically active for a while, check with your doctor to see if there are any activities you should avoid. If you have the go-ahead, choose what is most comfortable for you. This may be a dance class, yoga session, bicycle ride or even a daily walk around the neighborhood. Whatever you do, if your body is moving, you are helping yourself.
Not everyone can control cholesterol levels through lifestyle changes alone. You may find yourself having to take a cholesterol-lowering medication at some point, too. However, by incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
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