You don’t have to lose a lot of weight to lower your cholesterol. If you’re overweight, drop just 10 pounds and you’ll cut your LDL by up to 8%. But to really keep off the pounds, you’ll have to do it over time. A reasonable and safe goal is 1 to 2 pounds a week. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that while inactive, overweight women usually need 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for weight loss, active, overweight women and women weighing more than 164 pounds usually require 1,200 to 1,600 calories each day. If you’re extremely active during your weight-loss program, you may require additional calories to avoid hunger.
Where HDL is concerned, “you can’t be too thin,” Castelli says. One report found about a 1 percent rise in HDL for every pound of fat lost. This doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a toothpick, but that you should work on getting rid of excess flab as you add muscle. (Use a body-fat monitor rather than a scale to chart your progress.) Fortunately, fat loss is likely to go hand in hand with the exercise and dietary modifications that also raise HDL levels.
Catapano AL, et al. 2016 ESC/EAS guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemias: The task for the management of dyslipidaemias of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitaiton (EACPR). Atherosclerosis. 2016;253:281.
A: Before I answer that question, why bother to increase HDL cholesterol at all? Many studies have found that people with low levels of HDL are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other complications of arteries diseased by atherosclerosis: that's why we call HDL the "good" cholesterol. Given that, you'd think that raising HDL levels would reduce a person's risk for atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, despite a lot of research, we don't yet know if that's true, nor how best to raise HDL levels.
A study published in January 2016 in the journal Nutrients found that an antioxidant-rich diet raises HDL cholesterol levels in relation to triglycerides, and might be associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure, and inflammatory biomarkers. Antioxidant-rich foods include dark chocolate, berries, avocado, nuts, kale, beets, and spinach.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, a new class of drugs (the so-called CETP-inhibitors), which several pharmaceutical companies have been enthusiastically developing for several years to raise HDL levels, has become a great disappointment. While these drugs do indeed increase HDL levels, they have not demonstrated an ability to improve cardiac risk — and on the contrary, studies appear to show a worsening in cardiac risk with some of these drugs. It is unclear today whether any CETP-inhibitors will ever reach the market.
Soy isoflavones significantly decreased serum total cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 1.77%; P = 0.02) and LDL cholesterol by 0.13 mmol/L (5.0 mg/dL or 3.58%; P < 0.0001); no significant changes in HDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol were found. Isoflavone-depleted soy protein significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 2.77%; P = 0.03). Soy protein that contained enriched isoflavones significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.18 mmol/L (7.0 mg/dL or 4.98%; P < 0.0001) and significantly increased HDL cholesterol by 0.04 mmol/L (1.6 mg/dL or 3.00%; P = 0.05). The reductions in LDL cholesterol were larger in the hypercholesterolemic subcategory than in the normocholesterolemic subcategory, but no significant linear correlations were observed between reductions and the starting values. No significant linear correlations were found between reductions in LDL cholesterol and soy protein ingestion or isoflavone intakes.

First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis. A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.
Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.

Resistance training is a form of physical activity that forces your muscles to contract, building up strength and endurance. Some research also shows that resistance training could have beneficial effects on heart health as well and may decrease total and LDL cholesterol. (31) Weight lifting and bodyweight exercises like squats or lunges are some examples of resistance training that you can add to your routine.
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society