Cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, a type called high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, helps clear damaging cholesterol from the blood.
Doctors say these steps will up HDL levels:
• Know your numbers. Ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol check.
• Talk about what your ideal HDL level should be.
• Exercise. Studies have shown 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week is very effective. In fact, HDL cholesterol can increase by 5 percent after just two months of regular workouts, according to the Mayo Clinic.
• Keep a healthy weight. If you’re too heavy, losing only a few pounds can help — especially if you carry extra weight in your abdominal area.
• Don’t smoke. Cigarettes lower HDL cholesterol and also may cause chemical changes that block some of its other benefits.
• Eat healthy fats. Fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and olive and canola oil all are rich in fats that can increase HDL cholesterol’s ability to control inflammation in blood vessels.
• Avoid saturated and trans fats . . . and soluble fiber. Load up on foods such as oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain breads. Note: Some studies indicate cranberry juice also can boost HDL levels in some people.
• Don’t drink too much alcohol. Current recommendations are no more than one drink a day for women and one or two for men.
• Consider supplements. Some studies suggest plant sterols — found in margarine spreads such as Benecol or Promise — and fish or flaxseed oil may improve HDL levels. Older women also may benefit from calcium supplements. But talk to your doctor before starting on any supplement, especially if you’re on any type of medication.
• Consider medicine. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, prescription medication may help.