8 CHOLESTEROL • Choose organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible, and avoid preservatives, additives, and food colorings. • Reduce “white foods” including white rice, white bread, potato products, and pastas. • Reduce sodium and saturated fat intake. Keep Moving Next to diet, physical activity is the most important thing you can do for your heart. Many studies have shown that exercise increases HDL and decreases LDL cholesterol. Exercise also helps reduce body fat, uses up excess sugar in the bloodstream, lowers blood pressure, and trains the heart to pump more efficiently. It also staves off the onset of diabetes. These are all key heart-healthy benefits. Before you begin a new exercise program, consult with your physician, especially if you have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure and you have been fairly inactive. Being physically active on a consistent basis is the most important factor. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym or participating in formal exercise classes. Some people may prefer gardening, walking, riding the bike, or playing golf several times a week. Be sure to vary your physical activity so you don’t get bored or give up. When it comes to exercise, you want to focus on three key areas: • Aerobic activity (brisk walking, biking, swimming) • Stretching (yoga, tai chi) • Strength training (Pilates, weight lifting) Low-Cholesterol Living In addition to diet and exercise, there are many proactive things you can do to enhance your heart health and lower your cholesterol. The top two culprits that can sabotage your cholesterol-lowering efforts are smoking and stress. If you smoke, you need to quit. I know it’s not easy, but tobacco use is the single most dangerous lifestyle activity you can choose. The good news is that the benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate. According to the World Health Organization, just one year after quitting, a previous smoker’s risk of heart disease decreases by 50 percent. After 15 years, the risk of dying from heart disease for an ex-smoker is almost identical to someone who has never smoked. Exercise is one of the most important healthy lifestyle activities you can choose. Here are some exercise tips to keep in mind: • Make physical activity part of your daily routine. • An organized exercise routine should include a minimum of 30 minutes, four times a week. • Choose activities you enjoy, and mix it up to make it fun. • Be sure to cool down with simple stretching. • Make a habit to take the stairs instead of the elevator when feasible.