6 Cholesterol Mistakes You're Probably Making

Skipping healthy fats? Staying too long at happy hour? These everyday slipups can sabotage your heart health.

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Our bodies need cholesterol, but too much can clog arteries and cause heart disease, the leading killer of American men and women. But there’s good news: You can take steps to lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart attack and stroke. A healthy diet and regular exercise regimen can reduce cholesterol levels, but you have to pay attention to your fat, sugar and alcohol intake, too.

Avoid these everyday health mistakes to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

You Don't Know Your Numbers

2 / 7 You Don't Know Your Numbers

The key to preventing and managing heart disease is controlling risk factors, like high cholesterol. High cholesterol has no symptoms, yet it can lead to serious health problems like heart attack and stroke, so knowing your numbers is imperative to managing your cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends, beginning at age 20, getting tested for high cholesterol every four to six years, and possibly more frequently if you have heart disease risk factors, like a family history of heart disease, diabetes or obesity. Based on your total cholesterol and these other risk factors, your health care provider will determine your risk of heart disease and how to best manage it.

You Don't Get Enough Exercise

3 / 7 You Don't Get Enough Exercise

If you’re actively trying to manage your cholesterol levels, it takes more than a bi-weekly trip to the gym. The Surgeon General recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (roughly 20 minutes each day) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week for adults. Physical activity increases levels of good cholesterol and promotes weight loss, another factor in high cholesterol. Begin by exercising several times a week for 10 to 20 minutes and lengthening your workout over time. Not sure how to jump-start your workout regimen? Try biking, swimming, jogging or walking.


You Overlook Alcohol

4 / 7 You Overlook Alcohol

Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. The occasional drinks at a bar or cocktail party may not spike your LDL levels, but if these outings happen too frequently, it could spell a disaster. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can lead to a stroke, heart failure and high blood pressure. You don’t have to empty your liquor cabinet entirely—some research suggests moderate alcohol consumption may increase HDL cholesterol levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends women have no more than one drink a day, and men have no more than two.

You Skip Your Medication

5 / 7 You Skip Your Medication

Although it’s asymptomatic, high cholesterol may still require treatment. Cholesterol medication is usually prescribed to people with an elevated risk of heart disease, with risk factors such as high LDL cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking or a previous heart attack or stroke. The number of people taking statins—a drug prescribed for lowering LDL cholesterol—continues to increase each year. Unfortunately, about half of these patients report having stopped taking their medication within the first year. Statins are highly effective, and are only prescribed when necessary, so taking it is vital.

You Don't Watch Your Sugar

6 / 7 You Don't Watch Your Sugar

Fatty red meats and fried foods are known causes of increased LDL cholesterol levels, but what about sugar? Studies suggest Americans consume more sugar than what’s recommended—up to three times as much. Added sugars contribute to weight gain, so those with elevated cholesterol levels should be wary of rising numbers on the scale. High-sugar diets are also directly linked to high cholesterol—sugar increases an individual’s triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat that are a part of total cholesterol counts and can increase one’s risk of heart disease.

You Forget About Good Fats

7 / 7 You Forget About Good Fats

Avoid trans fats, found in fried foods, and saturated fats, found in red meat and animal products, to reduce bad cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or good cholesterol, and lowering triglyceride levels, a type of fat found in the blood. Swap your steak and French fries for good sources of monounsaturated fats like avocados, walnuts and olive oil.

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