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Take Good Care of Your Good Cholesterol
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by Jamie Kurtz, Dietetic Intern, Alicia Kroat RD, LDN, Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, and Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD

 The New Year has arrived and you have probably thought about a few things you would like to change in the months ahead. Like many people, you have probably made resolutions in the past that have gone unfulfilled. It is easy to give up on making resolutions because you have convinced yourself that you just cannot change, but don't be too hard on yourself. Instead, try making smarter, heart-healthy lifestyle resolutions that will lead to success.

 This year, make it your resolution to increase your HDL cholesterol, a.k.a. your "good cholesterol”. HDL seeks out cholesterol in arterial plaques and removes it. An optimal HDL-C is 60 mg/dL or greater. But, instead of focusing solely on the HDL goal, try to incrementally increase it. Lifestyle strategies for increasing your HDL-C include exercise, weight loss, quitting smoking and a healthy diet.

  • Exercise: Increase physical activity to a goal of 30-60 minutes per day and reduce sedentary activities to less than 2 hours per day. Renew your commitment to heart-healthy actions throughout the year by being physically active and eating right. Increasing exercise helps to maintain or lose weight in addition to increasing HDL-C.
  • Stop smoking: Studies have shown that smokers have a significantly lower HDL -C than non-smokers. A low HDL-C level can increase the risk for developing coronary heart disease. Quitting smoking can increase HDL-C by as much as 10 percent.
  • Healthy diet: Try cutting out saturated fats and replacing them with heart healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats listed below.

Type of fat:




Found in foods:

Bacon, butter, coconut, cream, cream cheese, lard, shortening, and sour cream

Avocado, nut butters, almonds, cashews, macadamia, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, canola, olive and peanut oils, black and green olives

Low fat margarine, mayonnaise, walnuts, pine nuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, corn and safflower oils

Here are some helpful tips for being successful with your New Year’s resolution to increase your HDL-C:

  1. Change is the key: Modifying your lifestyle is the key to achieving a successful New Year’s resolution. Now that you know how to increase your HDL-C, focus on smaller strategies that will allow you to reach your target number of 60 mg/dL or greater.
  2. Don’t just address big battles: Think of the smaller habits that turn into big problems when not addressed. Indeed, it is often smaller, more discreet resolutions that are most effective and that can be built upon to reach bigger goals. One of the ways to increase HDL-C is to be active. It is important to stay motivated throughout the winter months despite the cold weather. Sign up for a gym membership or find a class that you enjoy (i.e. yoga, swimming, dance) to keep you warm and active. Some health insurance companies offer discounts on gym memberships.
  3. Discuss your resolutions: Sit down with family and friends and go over the resolutions you have created for the year. Having a support system will help you be successful in reaching your resolution. Team up with a friend for additional motivation to stay active and help increase your HDL-C (and also decrease your LDL-C!).
  4. Post your resolutions: Keep a copy of your resolution nearby. When you see your list, you will be reminded of your goal. Better yet, write a daily goal that you would like to achieve on a calendar, and check it off once you have completed it. You can also post your resolutions and daily goals on Facebook or other social media so that your friends and family can help you stay motivated.
  5. Get Moving! Start your plan immediately. Don’t wait for tomorrow because delaying it makes it harder to get motivated. Try incorporating some physical activity at work to reach your daily exercise goal. Instead of taking the elevator take the stairs. Take a stretch and/or walk break every 30-60 minutes.
  6. Focus on the journey instead of the end result: Your enthusiasm will wax and wane, but remember to take each day one step at a time. On your calendar, record how many times you met your goals that week. Seeing the effort you have put forth to attain your HDL-C goal will be rewarding and reinforce your motivation. 

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the prevention of heart disease. These small steps will help you be successful not only for achieving an increased HDL-C, but they will improve heart health. Staying motivated throughout the year may be challenging but it will be rewarding knowing that you have worked diligently to attain your New Year’s resolution.

Heart-Healthy Recipes:

Chicken with Clementine Glaze

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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