Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can help to lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.
Adopting healthy habits, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising, will also help to prevent your cholesterol levels from becoming high in the first place.
It’s important to keep cholesterol in check because high cholesterol levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, talk to your GP.
Foods containing cholesterol
Some foods contain cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is called dietary cholesterol. Foods such as kidneys, eggs and prawns are higher in dietary cholesterol than other foods.
The cholesterol found in food has much less effect on the level of cholesterol in your blood than the amount of saturated fat that you eat.
If your GP has advised you to change your diet to reduce your blood cholesterol, the most important thing to do is to cut down on saturated fat. It’s also a good idea to increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre.
Fats and cholesterol
There are two main types of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels in the blood. Most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
- Meat pies
- Sausages and fatty cuts of meat
- Hard cheese
- Cakes and biscuits
- Foods containing coconut or palm oil
Eating foods that contain unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat can actually help reduce cholesterol levels.
Try to replace foods containing saturated fats with foods that are high in unsaturated fats, such as:
- Oily fish (e.g. mackerel and salmon)
- Nuts (e.g. almonds and cashews)
- Seeds (e.g. sunflower and pumpkin)
- Vegetable oils and spreads (e.g. sunflower, olive, corn, walnut and rapeseed oils)
Trans fats can also raise cholesterol levels. Trans fats can be found naturally at low levels in some foods, such as those from animals, including meat and dairy products.
Artificial trans fats can be found in hydrogenated fat, so some processed foods such as biscuits and cakes will contain trans fats.
As part of a healthy diet, try to cut down on foods containing trans fats or saturated fats, and replace them with foods containing unsaturated fats.
You should also reduce the total amount of fat in your diet. Try microwaving, steaming, poaching, boiling or grilling, instead of roasting or frying. Choose lean cuts of meat and go for low-fat varieties of dairy products and spreads (or eat just a small amount of full-fat varieties).
Fibre and cholesterol
There are two different types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Most foods contain a mixture of both.
Soluble fibre can be digested by your body (insoluble fibre cannot), and it may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
Good sources of soluble fibre include:
- fruit and vegetables
Try to include more of these foods in your diet. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Find out more about eating 5 a Day.
There’s evidence that foods containing certain added ingredients, such as plant sterols and stanols, can reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Sterols and stanols can be found in specially developed products, such as some spreads and yoghurts.
These foods are aimed at people who need to lower their cholesterol levels. People who don’t have high cholesterol shouldn’t eat these products regularly, particularly children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
If your doctor has told you that you have high cholesterol, you can lower it by changing your diet without having to eat special products.
If you do eat foods that are designed to lower cholesterol, read the label carefully to avoid eating too much.
An active lifestyle can help to lower cholesterol levels. Activities can range from walking and cycling, to more vigorous exercise such as running and dancing.
Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week can improve your cholesterol levels.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat.
One way to tell whether you’re working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can’t sing the words to a song.
Lower high cholesterol
There are two types of cholesterol, called low density lipoprotein (LDL), and high density lipoprotein (HDL). Your cholesterol result will tell you how much of each type you have in your blood.
LDL is commonly known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells of the body. If there’s too much LDL cholesterol in the blood, this can cause blocking of the arteries over time.
HDL is commonly known as ‘good’ cholesterol. It carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it is broken down. HDL cholesterol can help to protect against developing blocked arteries.
Cholesterol level varies from person to person.
The cholesterol level in blood is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
The government advises that adults should have:
- Total cholesterol lower than 5mmol/L
- LDL cholesterol lower than 3mmol/L
High cholesterol is not a disease in itself, but it is important due to its link to blocked arteries.
When arteries become blocked this can lead to a number of serious health problems, such as heart disease and heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.
If your cholesterol was found to be outside the healthy range, your healthcare professional may have talked to you about how to achieve a healthy cholesterol level.
High Blood pressure
Known as the “silent killer”, high blood pressure rarely has obvious symptoms.
Around 30% of people in England have high blood pressure but many don’t know it. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
The only way of knowing there is a problem is to have your blood pressure measured.
All adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every five years. If you haven’t had yours measured, or you don’t know what your blood pressure reading is, ask your GP to check it for you.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) as it is pumped around your body by your heart. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which makes it more likely that you will suffer a heart attack, a stroke or kidney disease.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures:
- Systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out
- Diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats
For example, if your GP says your blood pressure is “140 over 90″, or 140/90mmHg, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140mmHg and a diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.
You are said to have high blood pressure (medically known as hypertension) if readings on separate occasions consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher.
A blood pressure reading below 130/80mmHg is considered to be normal.
Who is most at risk?
Your chances of having high blood pressure increase as you get older. There is often no clear cause of high blood pressure but you are at increased risk if you:
- are overweight
- have a relative with high blood pressure
- are of African or Caribbean descent
- eat a lot of salt
- don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables
- don’t do enough exercise
- drink a lot of coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
- drink a lot of alcohol
- are aged over 65
If you fall into any of the groups listed above, consider making changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk of high blood pressure. Also consider having your blood pressure checked more often, ideally about once a year.
Prevention and treatment
You can take steps to prevent high blood pressure by:
- Losing weight if you need to
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy diet
- Cutting back if you drink a lot of alcohol
- Stopping smoking
- Cutting down on salt and caffeine
If your blood pressure is found to be high, it will need to be closely monitored until it is brought under control. Your doctor will usually suggest changes to your lifestyle and, sometimes, medication to achieve this.