When you’ve worked hard to get your cholesterol numbers down where they should be, your battle isn’t over. Now that you’re in your target range, it’s time to turn your focus to maintenance — keeping those numbers at their optimal level. Managing cholesterol is a lifelong process that gives you a say in your own continued good health.

Understanding not only how cholesterol serves your body, but how you can support its functions can be a useful aid in maintaining appropriate levels of both types of cholesterol. This effort keeps your arteries free of plaque, the culprit behind atherosclerosis, stroke, and overall cardiovascular health.


Cholesterol isn’t a single substance, but two different components, each with an important role to play. Much is made of “good” and “bad” cholesterol, but this isn’t the case. Each type is essential, and it’s the balance between them that creates the good/bad distinction.

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, removes waste cholesterol from your cells. Think of it as the trash collector, binding to excess fatty byproducts and ushering them out of your body. It’s an essential service. Low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, are the suppliers, carrying cholesterol to your cells, where it serves as the building blocks for several processes, another essential service.

However, when the LDL supply is too great, cholesterol accumulates in your blood vessels faster than HDL can carry away the excess. Keeping your cholesterol at a healthy level means maintaining a healthy balance between HDL and LDL.

Now that we’ve defined what it means to have healthy cholesterol levels, here are five ways to achieve and maintain that balance:

1. Maintain a healthy weight

The closer you are to an ideal body weight, the more efficiently your body handles cholesterol. This is due, in part, to the changes necessary to lose and maintain weight, but it’s also because less stored fat in your body permits many body systems to work more easily. A decrease of as little as 5-10% of your body weight leads to lower levels of cholesterol in your blood.  

2. Kick cigarettes

The many health benefits that you gain when you drop tobacco are well-documented. What you may not know is that without cigarettes, your HDL levels may rise. That could shift the HDL/LDL balance in your favor on its own, without any other lifestyle alterations. Added to the other heart-friendly benefits, there’s no health reason to keep a smoking habit.

3. Limit alcohol

While research shows that moderate alcohol use may be linked to higher HDL levels, the effect isn’t pronounced, so there’s no reason to start drinking for cholesterol health. There’s also no more-is-better effect where alcohol is concerned. More than a drink or two a day has a greater potential to cause other health issues, and these aren’t offset by HDL gains.

4. Stay active

Exercising a little each day and increasing your overall activity levels boosts HDL levels naturally. Even three 10-minute bursts of activity daily can contribute to weight loss and improve your cholesterol balance. There’s no need to join a gym or carve hard-to-find blocks of time out of a busy day. Make small changes that you can maintain, and build upon these.

5. Eat healthy

It’s possible you ate your way into a cholesterol imbalance. The good news is you can eat your way out as well, even if you’re genetically predisposed toward high LDL levels.

Saturated fats raise overall cholesterol levels and tilt the balance toward LDL. Lean meats, low-fat dairy, and monounsaturated fats, such as those in olive oil, are cholesterol-friendly alternatives. Read labels and cut all trans fats from your diet. The much-acclaimed omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts boost HDL and lower your blood pressure.

Adding soluble fiber to your diet is another way to lower LDL levels. Add whole oats, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet, and you’ll maintain the healthy balance of cholesterol components for years to come.

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