Winter is coming… and so is high cholesterol. Did you know that cholesterol levels may change with the seasons? During the colder months, people tend to eat comfort foods more often and exercise less. These two trends bring with them higher cholesterol levels. This isn’t the norm for everyone, but if this sounds like you, consider rethinking your winter habits.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol itself isn’t bad. It’s one of many substances created and used by our bodies. According to the American Heart Association, the body, mainly the liver, makes all the cholesterol our bodies need and circulates it through the blood.
Cholesterol becomes “bad” when we consume too much. Not only do our bodies already produce it, but it’s also found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. The liver produces more cholesterol when you eat a diet high in saturated and trans fats. Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls, making it harder for the heart to circulate blood. Plaque can break open and cause blood clots. If a clot blocks an artery that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. If it blocks an artery that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack.
How do you improve cholesterol?
Seeing the wind blowing snow along the ground doesn’t temp many of us to go out for a jog; hiding under a blanket on the couch with some hot cocoa and a good movie sounds much better… but your body won’t thank you. This winter, consciously make an effort to be more active and eat better.
If you have high cholesterol, it can be improved with medication, but lifestyle changes will help too. The Mayo Clinic offers five suggestions:
1. Eat heart-heathy foods.
Your diet makes a big difference when it comes to managing cholesterol.
- Choose healthier fats. Saturated fats, found primarily in red meat and dairy products, raise your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol. Choose leaner cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and monounsaturated fats – found in olive and canola oils – for healthier options.
- Eliminate trans fats. Trans fats affect cholesterol levels by increasing the “bad” cholesterol and lowering the “good” cholesterol. This bad combination increases the risk of heart attacks. Trans fats can be found in fried foods and many commercial products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. Read ingredient lists and avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids don’t affect LDL cholesterol. They have other heart benefits, such as helping to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, reducing your triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, and reducing blood pressure. Some types of fish – such as salmon, mackerel and herring – are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, almonds and ground flaxseeds.
- Increase soluble fiber. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Both have heart-health benefits, but soluble fiber also helps lower your LDL levels. You can add soluble fiber to your diet by eating oats and oat bran, fruits, beans, lentils, and vegetables.
- Add whey protein. Whey protein may account for many of the health benefits attributed to dairy. Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL and total cholesterol. You can find whey protein powders in health food stores and some grocery stores.
2. Exercise on most days of the week and increase your physical activity.
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. Being active for at least 30 minutes per day is recommended.
On those negative degree days, you don’t have to leave your house to exercise. Run up and down the stairs a few minutes and do jumping-jacks in between, or go to YouTube and check out hundreds of free workout video options you can do right in your living room. You can also check out this quick routine from Active.com: 30-Minute Indoor Workout to Beat the Cold Weather Blues.
Exercise can improve cholesterol. Moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol.
3. Quit smoking.
The most well-documented impact that smoking has on cholesterol is how it lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good’ cholesterol. Quitting will help improve your levels. Also, within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure and heart rate decrease. Within one year, your risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is similar to someone who never smoked.
4. Lose weight.
Carrying even a few extra pounds contributes to high cholesterol – losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your weight can improve cholesterol levels. Small changes add up. If you eat when you’re bored or frustrated, clean or reorganize instead. If you pick up fast food for lunch every day, pack something healthier from home. For snacks, munch on carrot sticks or popcorn instead of potato chips. Don’t eat mindlessly. Look for ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, such as using the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking farther from your office.
5. Drink alcohol only in moderation.
Many believe that the main benefit of alcohol (red wine, in particular) comes from its ability to raise HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind. However, these benefits aren’t strong enough to recommend alcohol to someone who doesn’t already drink. If you do drink, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Not convinced yet? See how insurance companies view your cholesterol when pricing your life insurance…
You already know that cholesterol plays a big part in your overall health, and health plays a big role in underwriting life insurance. When you apply for life insurance, the underwriters look at your cholesterol levels. Elevated cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease and can result in an extra premium based on the level of elevation.
If you know your cholesterol levels, you can enter this information in our quoting tool to see what rates different life insurance carriers may offer you. If you don’t know your cholesterol numbers, don’t worry, the blood test from a life insurance medical exam can determine these. If you need life insurance, don’t wait. Start now by getting a term quote and applying right online. We’ll be with you every step of the way making the process as smooth as possible.
Photo credit to: Alain Wong
About the writer
Writer, Editor, and Co-host of Quotacy's Q&A Fridays
Natasha is the content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has been in the life insurance industry since 2010 and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. When not at work, she's probably studying and working toward her Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation while throwing a tennis ball for her pitbull mix, Emmett, or curled up on her couch watching Netflix. If it’s football season, the Packers game will be on. Connect with her on LinkedIn.