Lifestyle changes

If your LDL cholesterol is too high, the first thing your doctor will probably suggest is lifestyle changes. These changes include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating more soluble fiber, found in oatmeal, beans, fruits and vegetables
  • Eating less fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy products
  • Losing weight
  • Exercising at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week

Being overweight and inactive tends to increase your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol, exactly the opposite of what you want. Exercise and weight loss can help reverse this trend. This is especially important for people who have large waist measurements — more than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters) for men and more than 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) for women — because people with this body shape are more likely to develop heart disease.

Medications may be needed

When lifestyle changes aren't enough to reach your cholesterol targets, your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol levels. These drugs, such as statins, aren't a replacement for lifestyle changes. You'll still need to eat well and exercise.

A hidden risk factor — family history

High cholesterol has no symptoms, but your genetic makeup — reflected in a family history of high cholesterol — might make you more prone to high cholesterol, even if you eat right and exercise.

That's why it's so important to have a baseline cholesterol test at age 20 and have follow-up tests at least once every five years. Finding the problem early allows you to take action before it's too late. Your doctor may recommend more frequent cholesterol tests if your total cholesterol level or LDL cholesterol level is high, or if you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol.