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Your Lower Cholesterol Toolbox

Get the tools you need to help lower cholesterol -- and reduce your risk of disease -- starting now.

Exercise to Lower Cholesterol

Regular physical activity is key to keeping your cholesterol low. Studies have found that even moderate exercise is enough to boost HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. In a recent study of young and middle-aged women in Spain, researchers found that the more calories a woman burned through moderate exercise, the lower her LDL level and the higher her HDL level.

Exercise, in combination with a healthy diet, is also important because while a low-fat lower calorie diet helps lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, one study showed it can also drop good HDL cholesterol by 7% over a year. That same study showed an increase in good HDL cholesterol (and a decrease in LDL and total cholesterol) for those who walked or jogged about 8 miles a week.

Weight Loss to Lower Cholesterol

Both a healthy diet and regular physical exercise can lead to another important tool in lower cholesterol: weight loss.

Excess weight tends to increase your LDL cholesterol level. If you are overweight and have high LDL cholesterol, losing weight may help you lower it. Weight loss also helps to lower triglycerides (another form of fat in your blood and one which you should aim to keep below 150 mg/dL) and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.

Medications to Lower Cholesterol

Some people find they can't lower cholesterol enough with lifestyle changes alone. "There are genetic factors that affect cholesterol levels," says Gotto. "One person may be able to keep their cholesterol low without much effort at all, while someone else may eat right, exercise, keep their weight down, and still have high cholesterol."

That's where medications come in. There are several types of cholesterol-lowering medications, but the most commonly prescribed are statins. There's a good reason for that, says Gotto. "They are very effective in lowering LDL levels in the majority of patients." Studies have shown that statins can lower LDL cholesterol by 20% to 60%.

Other medications to lower cholesterol include:

  • Bile acid sequestrants
  • Nicotinic acid (niacin)
  • Fibric acids
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • Combination drugs such as Vytorin, Advicor

Each of these drugs act in slightly different ways. For example, some lower LDL cholesterol, while others treat high levels of triglycerides and/or raise HDL cholesterol. Your doctor will help you decide which medication -- or combination -- is best for you.

However, medication may not help you as much if you don't help yourself.

"It's been found that if you continue to eat a high-fat diet, the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins are diminished," Gotto says. So if you start taking a cholesterol-lowering medication and figure it's OK to load up on the Krispy Kremes -- it's not.

Diet, exercise, weight loss, and medication: Your cholesterol-lowering toolbox has all you need to help you lower cholesterol -- and keep it low.

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Reviewed on October 23, 2008

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Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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