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Preventing or Managing High Cholesterol: Healthy Living Habits

A woman stretching.

Physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol.

By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your cholesterol in a healthy range and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthy lifestyle includes:

  1. Eating a healthy diet.
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. Getting enough physical activity.
  4. Not smoking.
  5. Limiting alcohol use.

Healthy Diet

Choosing healthy meal and snack options can help you avoid high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eating foods low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol as well as foods high in fiber, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats can help prevent and manage high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing “good” high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Try to:

  • Eat less saturated fats, which comes from animal products (like cheese, fatty meats, and dairy desserts) and tropical oils (like palm oil).
  • Stay away from trans fats, which may be in baked goods (like cookies and cake), snack foods (like microwave popcorn), fried foods, and margarines.
  • Limit foods that are high in cholesterol, including fatty meats and organ meat (like liver and kidney).
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt.
  • Eat more foods that are high in fiber, like oatmeal, oat bran, beans, and lentils.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits and is low in salt and sugar.

For more information on healthy diet and nutrition, see CDC’s Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Program web site or browse the heart-healthy recipes available in the Million Hearts® Healthy Eating and Lifestyle Resource Center.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high cholesterol. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight web site. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure excess body fat.

Physical Activity

Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.

For more information, see CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity web site.

No Smoking

Cigarette smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the hardening of the arteries, and greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.

For more information about tobacco use and quitting, see CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use web site.

Limited Alcohol

Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your cholesterol. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day, and women only 1. For more information, visit CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health web site.