More (Good) Cholesterol, Please

Tips to boost your HDL cholesterol levels

The word cholesterol often has a negative connotation. While you hear over and over again that you need to avoid foods high in cholesterol, cholesterol in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, your body needs some of this waxy, fatty substance for good health. Even when you try to avoid it altogether, it’s actually made by the body and found in every cell.

Cholesterol is transported in the blood by two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Both kinds are important, but too much LDL can build up in your arteries and cause heart problems, earning its reputation as “bad” cholesterol. HDL is “good” because it cleans out the arteries and carries LDL to the liver to be eliminated by the body. Therefore, the more HDL you have, the less LDL circulates in your blood. HDL is also good for reducing inflammation and possibly protecting against Alzheimer’s disease.

Read on to learn ways to increase your HDL and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Get Moving

If you need one more reason to start exercising here it is: physical activity increases your HDL cholesterol. The connection between exercise and cholesterol reduction is unclear, but is likely due to the a few facts.

First, exercise helps you lose or manage weight. Excess weight increases the amount of LDL in your blood. Second, exercise speeds the removal process of LDL from the blood. And third, exercise increases the size of proteins that carry cholesterol. This is important because the small proteins are the ones that take up residence in the arteries.

Get 30 minutes or more of aerobic physical activity at least five days a week. This could be walking, jogging, swimming, raking leaves, or playing tennis. The length of time you exercise seems to be more important than the intensity.

Eat These Foods

Some fats are good for you and others aren’t. Limit foods with saturated fats (dairy, eggs, and meat) and completely avoid foods that contain trans fat. Because these foods contain cholesterol, they increase your LDL levels and harm your blood vessels. Trans fats—partially hydrogenated oils—boost your LDL and reduce your HDL, a double no-no.

Healthy fat options include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as nuts, salmon, olive oil, and avocadoes. These fats increase your HDL without affecting your overall cholesterol levels.

Other heart-healthy foods are whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Cranberry juice in particular has been shown to raise HDL levels and calcium supplements are also beneficial for postmenopausal women.

Stop Smoking & Limit Alcohol

Two more lifestyle changes with big potential for a positive difference in your HDL cholesterol levels are to quit smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation. Kicking the habit of smoking leads to a 10-percent increase in your HDL, drastically improving the health of your heart.

While too much alcohol is dangerous for your heart, a drink or two a day is actually very good for it. If you can limit your consumption, women can have one drink a day and men, two drinks a day to increase their HDL.

Use Medications if Necessary

Drugs are often prescribed to help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. Niacin, fibrates, and statins work in different ways and have varying success rates. Lifestyle changes, however, usually have the greatest positive effect on cholesterol levels.