How to lower cholesterol

Cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) is a type of fat that has many vital functions inside the body. It helps to build up our cells and is necessary for the manufacture of hormones. It is manufactured inside the liver and also found in foods derived from animals. Therefore, plant foods do not contain any cholesterol.

However, too much of a good thing can have negative outcomes. In certain individuals, a high cholesterol concentration in the blood is caused by an inherited genetic defect known as familial hypercholesterolemia. In this situation, cholesterol in the blood is present from birth and may lead to early development of atherosclerosis – the thickening, narrowing and hardening of artery walls – and coronary heart disease.

Yet, the good news is, an elevated cholesterol profile is typically modifiable by an exercise and dietary modification intervention.

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL is the good cholesterol which protects your heart, while too much of the LDL in the blood can narrow your arteries and form clots increasing the risk of heart disease.

The signs

Unfortunately, like high blood pressure, there aren’t any obvious symptoms, but your lifestyle could be an indicator of having high cholesterol.


A simple blood test referred by a health professional will give you the result within a few days.


Being sedentary, smoking, poor nutrition and being overweight can increase the likelihood of high cholesterol.


Some of the best ways to reduce the bad cholesterol and increase the good cholesterol are to exercise regularly and become more active throughout the day.

Reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates (sweets, salty snacks and soft drinks), saturated fats (such as bacon, sausages, chips) and trans fats (such as margarine) and replacing them with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats (such as avocado and extra virgin olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (such as fish and nuts) will help.

Increasing our intake of fibre helps lower cholesterol by decreasing its absorption from the gut. Fibre decreases the sugar levels inside the blood after a meal, which also helps to lower the cholesterol production. At an intake of eight grams per day, fibre has been shown to lower total cholesterol. Common sources of fibre include oats, barley, legumes and many fruits and vegetables.

Using foods with specific cholesterol-lowering effects compares favourably with drug therapy for lowering cholesterol levels. Meals that combine fibre, soy protein, plant sterols and nuts have been shown to lower LDL by nearly 30 per cent in short-term trials, which has an effect similar to that of statins. Although each of these foods alone contributes to lowering total fats inside the blood, their effects are improved when the foods are combined.

Plant sterol products, which are normally found in the form of butter, reduce LDL cholesterol by roughly 10 per cent by inhibiting cholesterol absorption.

Using foods with specific cholesterol-lowering effects compares favourably with drug therapy for lowering cholesterol levels

Soy products which contain soy protein help to reduce the cholesterol which is produced inside the liver.

Nuts, such as almonds, pecans and walnuts, appear to have cholesterol-lowering effects, apparently due to their fibre, plant sterol and unsaturated fat content.

Exercise prescription

Regular participation in physical activity or exercise results in beneficial changes in individuals with normal cholesterol levels as well as in most people suffering from high cholesterol.

Guidelines for exercise:

Aerobic work (cardiovascular work), such as cycling/swimming/running, where large muscle groups are used.

Aim to exercise five to seven days a week for 20-60 minutes per session or interval sessions (example two to three sessions per day at 10-30 minutes). This helps to decrease the total cholesterol and deposits inside the arteries.

Weight training helps to increase muscle strength and endurance apart from many other benefits, such as improving bone density and reducing the risk of bone fractures, increasing the basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn during rest) and improving posture.

Aim for two to three days a week of strength training, which includes a balanced full-body workout targeting all muscles and joints.


Flexibility helps improve the range of motion for the upper and lower limbs. It is important to include stretching exercises before and after any activity. This helps decrease the risk of injury apart from improving blood flow, posture and lifestyle.

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