Arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, occurs when high cholesterol produces fatty deposits called plaque in arteries, narrowing them and making them less elastic. This interferes with blood flow, a particularly dangerous situation for the coronary arteries that supply the heart. If uncorrected, arteriosclerosis may lead to heart attack and result in heart damage. Eating a heart healthy diet and pursuing an exercise program can reverse arterial damage and improve the function of your heart. Consult your doctor to develop a diet and exercise program appropriate for your situation.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends a plan of lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health. The plan is called Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC. It includes a diet low in fat, with less than 7 percent of all calories coming from saturated fats and little or no dietary cholesterol. To follow this plan, avoid meats high in fat such as steak, hamburger, bacon or sausage. Replace these with skinless poultry or fish. Check food labels and avoid products that contain saturated or trans fats. Instead of full-fat dairy products, choose low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, or soy-based dairy substitutes.
Consuming certain healthy fats will also help lower cholesterol and improve your heart health. Monounsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils are very good choices, as are the polyunsaturated fats in nuts such as walnuts and almonds. Omega-3 fatty acids can also help reverse damage to your heart and blood vessels. These fats, found in many fish, tend to lower bad cholesterol, low density lipoprotein, while raising good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, halibut, mackerel and herring.
Foods High in Fiber
Adding foods high in fiber to your diet is also an important strategy to lower your cholesterol and improve your heart health. Whole grain goods lower your blood pressure and keep your digestive system working smoothly. Choose whole-grain breads, cereals and baked goods, and consume lots of brown rice, barley, quinoa and other healthy grains. Foods high in soluble fiber will also help keep your cholesterol low. Good examples of these foods include oatmeal and oat bran, potatoes, bananas, apples, berries and legumes such as peas, beans and lentils.
Increasing your level of exercise may also help lower your cholesterol and help clear plaque from your arteries. If you are healthy, the American Heart Association recommends you perform moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for 30 minutes daily, aiming to raise your heart rate to 50 to 85 percent of its maximum rate. It lists brisk walking, hiking, stair climbing, jogging or bicycling as good activities, but also suggests that you add exercise to your regimen gradually, building up your stamina. Consult your doctor to determine the proper level of exercise for your situation.
- National Cholesterol Education Program: High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- MayoClinic.com: Top 5 LIfestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol
- MayoClinic.com: Heart-Healthy Diet: 8 Steos to Prevent Heart Disease
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.