Cholesterol is a complex substance that is necessary for survival. It’s produced in the liver and helps create vitamin D, form cells and create certain hormones. However, cholesterol can also cause plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries, slowing down blood flow and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

People with high cholesterol typically don’t have symptoms. The best way to identify high cholesterol is to have a blood lipid panel taken regularly. According to Healthline, your total cholesterol level is healthy at less than 200 mg/dL. You should shoot for an LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, level of 100 mg/dL or lower. Your HDL, or “good” cholesterol, level should be 40 mg/dL or higher.

High LDL levels can damage artery walls, encouraging the buildup of plaque. HDL combats LDL, moving it back to the liver, where it can be removed. High HDL levels are associated with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Lowering your total and LDL cholesterol levels involves making dietary and lifestyle changes. These modifications may be challenging to adopt, but you’ll see exponential benefits as you stay consistent.

1. Stop Eating Trans Fats

Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, raise your LDL and lower your HDL levels. When you eat trans fats, you activate proteins in your liver that create LDL. Researchers have found that this can lower the levels of LDL in the liver but elevate them in the bloodstream.

The FDA is working to stop food manufacturers from including trans fats in the stuff we eat. However, trans fats can be naturally present in foods. Also, the compounds that may be used to replace trans fats may not be any healthier.

2. Take a Walk

You don’t have to become an exercise guru to improve your health. Just a couple of hours of exercise a week can lower LDL and raise HDL, according to WebMD.

If you’re new to exercising, start out with just 10 minutes a day to get the habit to stick. Everyone can find 10 minutes in their day even if it means waking up a little earlier or going to bed a little later. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of exercising for 10 minutes, it will seem like it takes no effort to tack on another 5 minutes. Keep this up, and 20 to 30 minutes of regular exercise will seem as routine as brushing your teeth.

You don’t have to limit yourself to doing cardio to improve your hearth health. Livestrong explains that strength training can help lower your LDL levels too. Using weights or other forms of resistance while exercising can help build lean muscle mass. This can boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories even while you rest. When you maintain a healthy weight, you have a lower risk of cardiovascular problems.

3. Eat Healthy Fats

Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, which is better for your cholesterol than trans fats. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts have also been found to lower LDL levels.

Don’t be afraid to trade out nutrient-deprived, sugary foods for a little bit of fat. Instead of adding dried fruit and fat-free dressing to a salad, use a dressing made with olive oil, and sprinkle some nuts on top. You’ll stay full for longer and get the cholesterol-lowering benefits without adding a ton of calories.

Some foods that are high in omega-3s are:

  • Salmon
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Tuna
  • Hemp seeds
  • Anchovies
  • Egg yolks

4. Focus on Sleep

Life can feel like a whirlwind. In today’s environment, which focuses on getting more done in less time, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of sleep. Getting the proper amount of shuteye can make a huge difference when it comes to your cholesterol levels.

What’s the ideal amount of sleep? Research shows that people who sleep between five and eight hours a day are less likely to have negative impacts on their cholesterol levels. However, this correlation is stronger for women than for men.

Getting good quality sleep is also important. People who snore may have lower HDL levels. Poor sleep habits can lead to other detrimental lifestyle patterns that negatively affect cholesterol.

5. Have Meat-Free Mondays

Although the idea that eating cholesterol-rich foods can increase your blood cholesterol levels is controversial, Prevention reports that adding plant-based food to your diet can lower LDL. In a Canadian study, men who added healthy, fiber-rich vegetarian items to their daily food consumption experienced an LDL reduction of almost 30 percent.

Some options to add to your diet include:

  • Whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa
  • Beans and lentils
  • Oats
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • High-fiber fruits

Learning that you have an increased risk for cardiovascular problems can be scary, and high cholesterol can be tough to tame if you are genetically disposed to it. However, making these healthy lifestyle changes can improve your cholesterol. If you follow these tips, you’ll also reduce inflammation, which is thought to cause arterial damage in the first place.

Healthy habits can be easy to implement if you strive to take baby steps, stay consistent, reward yourself for successes and refrain from beating yourself up if you fall off the wagon. Find ways to make incorporating these tips into your lifestyle fun and enjoyable, and you’ll be more likely to stick to them forever.