Protecting our cardiovascular system should be a top priority. But with our mostly sedentary lifestyles (said as I sit at a computer to post this), inflammatory foods, and questionable diets, cardiovascular disease is on the rise.

One of the markers for developing disease is high cholesterol levels, especially the bad LDL low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This cholesterol poisons the liver, blocks the arteries, and in general wreaks havoc on our entire circulatory system.

But before resorting to surgery or drugs, there are lifestyle and diet shifts that can help stabilize or even lower your LDL cholesterol levels.

Eat More Fiber

Soluble fiber reduces how much cholesterol is absorbed into your blood stream. Soluble fiber is found in oatmeal, flax seeds, kidney beans, apples and most other fruit. Strive for at least 10 grams per day.

Eat More Plant-Foods in General

Most whole plants, especially vegetables, help manage cholesterol levels. Strive to eat most of your food in its whole, unprocessed form. Learn to use herbs and spices instead of oil and salt for flavor.

Move It or Lose It

Exercise. At least 45 minutes per day, 5 days a week. Its helpful to get a blend of cardio and strength training, but really what you do is not as important as that you do something. Move your body vigorously and frequently while you still can. Regular exercise lowers LDL cholesterol levels and helps maintain a healthy weight.

Manage Your Portions

Overeating blocks digestion, which means that sugars are more likely to turn into fat instead of being used for fuel. And being overweight or obese puts a huge strain on your heart and arteries. Eat enough to be truly nourished, but no more.

Processed Food = Poison

This is a big one for any healthy lifestyle change, but especially if you need to reduce cholesterol. Many packaged foods and baked goods contain trans fat, which is basically like injecting LDL cholesterol directly into your bloodstream. And they are usually high in sugar and processed grains, which contribute indirectly to raising cholesterol levels.

Dont Smoke

This should be a no-brainer for anyone who wants a long and healthy life, but just in case you missed the memo, smoking is bad for every system in the body. It interferes with the bodys ability to metabolize fat, lowers HDL (good cholesterol levels) and causes destruction in many other ways.

Alcohol Only in Moderation

While an occasional glass of red wine may contribute necessary anti-oxidants, alcohol also stresses the heart.

Go Easy with Red Meat

Eating any meat other than fish contributes to cholesterol levels, obesity, heart disease, and other health problems.

Cut Out Most Saturated Fat

Other than the few healthy fats mentioned below, most saturated fat contributes to cholesterol and blocked arteries. This includes most meat and dairy, especially processed meat products with nitrates like bacon and lunchmeat.

Enjoy Healthy Fats

Some dietary fat is necessary, and helps up the level of good cholesterol while clearing out the bad cholesterol. The best sources of dietary fat are avocados, nuts like almonds and walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil.

Just go easy with all of these, because too much of any kind of fat is, well, too much fat for the body to use. You only need a handful of nuts, one tablespoon of olive oil, or half of one medium avocado per meal.

A diagnosis of high cholesterol is not a death sentence. But it does mean that you need to be more vigilant with your lifestyle and dietary choices. With a little care and persistence, you can make the shifts needed to live a long and healthy life.