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How might my lifestyle affect my cholesterol level?

How to Replace Unhealthy Habits With Healthy OnesIf you have unhealthy habits, they could be increasing your cholesterol level. Working to have healthier habits could lower your levels.

Many aspects of your lifestyle can impact your cholesterol level. These include:

  • your diet
  • your weight
  • your activity level
  • whether you smoke

The Impact of Your Diet

What you eat and how much you eat has a big impact on your heart. Your food choices can help you be healthier - or unhealthier. When it comes to managing your cholesterol levels, the two biggest considerations are the amount of cholesterol you eat and the amount of fat you eat.

Cholesterol in your food - The basics. A diet high in cholesterol can raise your blood cholesterol levels. Later in this learning center, you will get step-by-step help on how to lower the amount of cholesterol you eat. Here's a preview.

  • Experts suggest that both men and women should eat no more than 200 mg of cholesterol daily. On average, women consume 220 to 260 mg of cholesterol each day, and men consume 360 mg of cholesterol each day. Many people with high blood cholesterol routinely eat even higher amounts.
  • All animal foods, including meat, eggs, and dairy foods, contain cholesterol. Plant foods do not. This means that you need to limit the amount of animal foods you eat. To get an idea of the impact, consider this: One egg with the yolk contains 213 mg of cholesterol. A tablespoon of butter contains 31 mg. Four ounces of prime rib can contain as much as 94 mg.

Fat in your food - The basics. A diet high in total fat, especially saturated fat, can raise your blood cholesterol levels, too. In fact, foods that contain saturated fat raise your blood cholesterol even more than foods that contain cholesterol. Later in this learning center, you will get step-by-step help on how to cut back on fat in your diet. Here's a preview.

  • You can often recognize saturated fat because it is solid at room temperature. For instance, areas of fat that you see on a steak or chicken breast are saturated fat. So is lard.
  • Sometimes saturated fat is harder to recognize because it's spread throughout a food and mixed with other types of fat that may not be solid. For instance, there's saturated fat in whole-milk dairy products, in some nuts, such as peanuts, and in some vegetable oils, including coconut, palm kernel, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
  • Experts at the National Institutes of Health estimate that Americans get an average of 12% of their total calories from saturated fat. That's too much for good heart health. According to the 2001 guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program, total fat should account for no more than 25% to 35% of your daily calories. Saturated fat should account for no more than 7%.

The Impact of Your Weight

If you're overweight, chances are you have high cholesterol. Excess weight raises LDL - the bad cholesterol. It also lowers HDL - the good cholesterol. Excess weight also puts you at greater risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. And both of these are also risk factors for heart disease. Your risk for heart disease is even greater if you carry your weight mainly around your waist. This is sometimes called an apple shape.

The Impact of Exercise

People known as couch potatoes are much more likely to have high blood cholesterol than exercisers are. By increasing your activity, you can raise your HDL cholesterol and possibly lower your LDL cholesterol. Exercise can also help you control your weight, prevent or control diabetes, and control high blood pressure - all risk factors for heart disease. To learn how you can include more activity in your daily life, see How Do I Increase My Exercise?

The Impact of Smoking

The American Heart Association calls smoking "the foremost preventable cause of death in the United States." Smoking damages your artery walls. This makes them more apt to collect the fatty deposits, called plaque, that cause atherosclerosis. Experts believe that smoking probably makes plaques in your coronary arteries more likely to rupture and cause a heart attack. Also, smoking may lower your level of HDL - the good cholesterol - by up to 15%.