5 Ways to Increase Your HDL Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol

Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap in recent history. From pharmaceutical advertisements to food labeling, we are told to lower our cholesterol—and to do it now! While it’s true that lowering your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels is the healthy thing to do, there is one type of cholesterol that you don’t want to lower. In fact, you actually want this cholesterol level to go as high as possible.

We’re talking about HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Raising your HDL levels can help keep your blood vessels healthy and reduce your risk of heart disease.

A Little Background on HDL Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty-feeling substance that is found throughout the body. LDL carries cholesterol through the bloodstream to your tissues and cells. This is an essential function for the body, but when there is too much cholesterol, it builds up on the walls of the arteries and that can lead to heart disease or other serious cardiovascular complications.
On the other hand, HDL removes LDL from the arteries and carries it back to the liver. At that point, it’s filtered out and excreted from the body. Since HDL works to clean out the blood vessels, it is referred to as “good” cholesterol. Having healthy levels of HDL can protect your body against cardiovascular diseases.

For every 1 mg/dL increase in HDL, your risk of having a cardiac event decreases by 2-3%.

Having low levels of HDL, even if your total cholesterol levels are healthy, can put you at risk for coronary heart disease and heart attack. Men who have levels below 40 mg/dL or women that have levels below 50 mg/dL are at risk. Both sexes should aim to have HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or above.

How to Increase Your HDL Levels

If you’re looking to raise your HDL levels, you have quite a few options to try. There are some cholesterol medications that can raise HDL, but here are five ways you can increase your HDL without making a trip to the doctor.

1. Adjust Your Diet

The two most important dietary factors for raising HDL levels are fats and fiber. Trans fatty acids reduce HDL levels, so you’ll want to avoid foods with trans fat. But you can go ahead and indulge (a little!) in monounsaturated fats. These fats raise HDL levels. Try to get more canola oil, olive oil, avocado, or peanut butter. As for fiber, try to add more soluble fiber into your diet. Experts recommend oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, and legumes.

2. Pour Yourself A Drink

Alcohol, in moderation, can raise HDL levels by as much as 4 mg/dL. Don’t go crazy with this one – experts recommend that women have one drink and men have two drinks, at most, per day. If you have liver disease, alcoholism, or a strong family history of alcohol abuse, you might reconsider this suggestion.

3. Quit Smoking

If you use tobacco products, giving up the habit could really help your blood vessels. Research shows that quitting smoking can raise HDL by up to 10 percent.

4. Stay Active

Engaging in regular exercise can benefit your health in a number of ways, including raising your HDL levels. After two months of regular aerobic activity, you could increase your levels by up to 5 percent. Any activity that gets your heart pumping hard for 30 minutes per day will work.

5. Drop the Extra Pounds

Carrying around extra weight really taxes the cardiovascular system. To increase your HDL by 1 mg/dL, you will need to lose about six pounds.

Now that you know the facts about HDL cholesterol, challenge yourself to raise your levels. Simply start by asking your doctor to order a cholesterol blood test. Along with some other cholesterol information, this test will show you your current HDL levels. Then you can get to work—eat healthy, stay active, and don’t smoke! When you have your blood retested (experts recommend having a cholesterol test every five years), you’ll be able to see some heart-healthy results!

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Exercising with Diabetes: How to Manage Your Insulin

diabetes exercise

The human body uses a complex feedback loop to manage blood sugar. Blood glucose, insulin, the pancreas, the liver, and the cells all play important roles. If you have either Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes straightening out each piece of this blood sugar puzzle can be really difficult! To make diabetes management even more challenging, this feedback loop behaves differently when you’re exercising.

Don’t get confused here—exercise is a wonderful thing for diabetics! But, all diabetics need to be aware of the effects that exercise has on their insulin and blood sugar levels. Any type of aerobic activity, from walking to swimming to cycling, will lower blood glucose levels during the exercise and can increase insulin sensitivity for up to 24 hours after you’re done with the activity. Without properly adjusting your insulin dose, exercise may lead to hypoglycemia.

Exercise, Insulin, and Glucose: How They Work Together

No diabetic wants to get into trouble with exercise-induced hypoglycemia and the best way to avoid it is to learn how your body uses glucose when you’re working out. The easiest place to start is in the muscles.

During exercise, your muscles use glucose as fuel. They do have some glucose in storage and that’s the fuel they use first. After the muscular glucose runs out, the pancreas releases the hormone glucagon. This triggers the liver to release glucose into the blood stream and that’s what the muscles will use for extended fuel.

Usually, the body of a diabetic has a difficult time getting glucose into the cells. However, during exercise, the muscle contractions stimulate the cells to easily pull in the glucose they need. Exercise also increases the effectiveness of the insulin in your blood. This is true even when the activity is over. The muscles want to replenish their stores of glucose, so they will continue to pull in extra glucose for hours.

All of these interactions mean that diabetics need to carefully manage their insulin dose and blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise. If you have too much insulin in your bloodstream during exercise, the muscles will pull in too much blood glucose and you’ll become hypoglycemic. However, if you don’t have enough insulin, the glucose cannot get into the muscles and you may become hyperglycemic.

How to Adjust Your Insulin for Exercise

Now that you know what’s going on inside of your body during exercise, what should you do about it? All diabetics should lower their insulin dose before exercising, but the amount of that reduction is different for every individual. In general, you should reduce your insulin dose by one or two units. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • How fit are you?

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, you may be more likely to be hypoglycemic during activity.

  • How long and difficult is your activity?

Long, strenuous workouts are the most likely culprits of hypoglycemia.

  • What time of day is it?

Diabetics who exercise before breakfast usually have a lower chance of becoming hypoglycemic.

  • What are your blood glucose levels before you begin exercising?

If you skip a meal, you are more likely to have low blood sugar during exercise. If you’re blood sugar is above 180 mg/dL, you may not need any insulin adjustments.

Remember, you should check your blood sugar once every hour during exercise. If your level is below 70 mg/dL, stop the activity and take 15-20 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate. You can recheck your glucose levels after 15 minutes and return to exercising if the levels are within normal range.

Precautions

Remember, we are referring to aerobic, moderate-intensity exercise. If you are participating in particularly strenuous, anaerobic exercises, you will need to make different adjustments to your insulin doses.

It is very important that you speak with your doctor before you begin any new aerobic activities or exercise regimens. He or she can help you properly adjust your insulin dose and instruct you about the exercises that are best suited for your unique circumstances.

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