Reducing Cholesterol with Diet and Exercise: Does It Work?

The bright side of having raised cholesterol levels (and yes, there is a bright side) is that this is an issue you can actually do something about. With simple changes to your lifestyle and what you eat, you can make a real difference over time. 

So, what do you need to do? Here’s our rundown on lowering cholesterol with diet and exercise – including what to eat, what not to eat, and how exercise might be able to help you reach your goal. 

How can you lower cholesterol to a recommended level through diet?

One of the most important ways you can lower cholesterol is by changing the type of fat you eat. Eating less saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels, and is one of the first things the NHS recommends. Find out more about what foods contain saturated fat or unsaturated fat here, and then get ideas for simple food swaps to make too.

There are also certain types of foods that can actively reduce your cholesterol levels when eaten consistently, as part of a healthy diet:

  • Flora ProActiv spreads, milk, and mini-drinks have added plant sterols which help reduce cholesterol levels.*
  • Beta glucans, a nutrient found in oats and barley, can also help bring cholesterol levels down.**

Not sure how to begin making these changes? Use our recipe finder to get inspiration for delicious lunches, dinners, and snacks. Now to turn to the question of choosing the best exercise to lower cholesterol.

Can exercise reduce cholesterol levels?

So what about using exercise for reducing cholesterol? In fact, there is no direct link between doing exercise and lowering cholesterol levels to the recommended level, although it is thought it may increase good HDL-cholesterol. However, importantly, exercise can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight, which in turn makes elevated cholesterol levels less likely. As such, and because physical activity provides so many other health benefits, it’s important that anyone with raised levels do something to keep active.

Simple exercises at home can be a good way to start, along with some stretching exercises. Simple strength and toning exercises would also help keep the body flexible and strong. For something more energetic, try dance classes, running, or cycling. Gardening, housework and walking can also help you keep active – it all counts.

So while it is not possible to recommend the best exercise for lowering cholesterol specifically, the best exercise is always going to be the exercise that you enjoy, as that’s the only one you’ll keep doing, and with exercise consistency really is the key to success. Go out, try several different activities, and see which one you enjoy.

How much can diet and exercise lower cholesterol?

This really depends on what you’re doing to lower cholesterol, what your levels are, and whether you stick with your new routine! Eating 1.5 - 2.4g of plant sterols a day can help to lower cholesterol by 7 to 10% in two to three weeks, as long as your overall diet is healthy and balanced. Add to that the fat swaps, achieving a healthy weight, and having a healthy lifestyle overall, and you can see a real change.

That said, your doctor might still need to prescribe medications to help lower your levels further, and it’s important to follow their advice if they do. You can do both for additional cholesterol-lowering benefits – and a healthy diet and lifestyle brings plenty of other rewards.

Those are our top tips on reducing cholesterol with diet and exercise. Remember that your first port of call should be your GP or practice nurse if you have any questions about cholesterol. Then, if you’d like more information, why not try downloading our Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit here?

Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit button

*A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g plant sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
**A daily intake of 3g oat beta-glucan has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are multiple risk factors and you may need to tackle all of them to reduce your overall risk.

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