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House Call: Making lifestyle changes is important

If your cholesterol is elevated, you’ve had a heart attack or a stroke, or you have higher than average risk of these due to smoking or family history – it’s time to make lifestyle changes that have been proven to lower your risk of those bad things that you really don’t want to get.

While there is not a pill to fix everything, taking statin drugs has been shown to reduce risk of heart attacks and the complications of heart disease significantly. A major review of clinical trials found that statins can have a considerable impact on reducing cardiovascular events. Among people who had never had an event before, statins were associated with a 31 percent reduction in the risk of dying from a cardiac event and a 36 percent reduction in risk of having a heart attack, according to the 2016 review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But in addition to taking these effective pills, I highly recommend a serious effort to make lifestyle changes to lower your risk help you to feel better every day.

The first change to make is in the amount of physical activity you engage in daily. Use your break time at work to go for a walk. Get up from your desk and take a stroll down the hall once every hour. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. As you get used to more physical activity, you can increase your pace on your breaks, or add in walking after work. Regular exercise helps your body to shift its cholesterol to the good HDL kind that protects against heart and vascular disease.

I recommend eating less meat. My top recommendation is to get a good share of your daily protein from plant sources like beans, but I understand that it can be hard to change a lifetime of eating habits all at once. It’s a little counterintuitive, but the effect that meat has on your cholesterol has more to do with the amount and kinds of fat in it that the absolute amount of cholesterol in it. Fish has the most positive effect on health and cholesterol levels. People who regularly eat fish two or three times a week have less heart disease than people who don’t eat fish. Chicken and turkey have less fat than beef and pork. We don’t need as much protein as most of think we do. A person weighing 160 pounds needs about 60 grams of protein a day. An older person is better off getting a bit more, but at that weight 90 grams is enough. We’ll talk more about protein in a future column.

My “go-to” quick dinner when I am tired and don’t feel like cooking is a salmon patty, a bean patty and a salad with vinegar and olive oil. I buy the patties frozen, zap them for a couple minutes in the microwave, then sauté them in a little olive oil. If I’m really hungry, I cook a sweet potato on the side. Sweet potatoes are great even if they don’t have butter and marshmallows on them. Some easy changes to make are to cook with olive, canola or avocado oil instead of butter or lard; eat a handful of almonds instead of snacking on potato chips; have a piece of fruit instead of the cookies, cakes and donuts from the breakroom at work.

Consuming more healthy fats like olive oil lowers cardiac risk. There are multiple studies that show diets that are rich in olive oil improve health and lower the risk of heart and vascular disease.

Eating soluble fiber is an effective way to help lower your cholesterol. You can find it in whole grains like oatmeal, fruits, beans, and vegetables. I recommend 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruits and a serving of beans every day. For an adult a serving is about a half a cup.

For some readers, this may just be a little different from what you’re used to. Go ahead and try some of my ideas. You’ll like it and feel better.

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center. His column appears biweekly in The Spokesman-Review.