Direct your efforts toward decreasing your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and increasing your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. Your LDL level is a measure of the “bad” cholesterol that’s in your blood.
When you have a lot of LDL, the excess cholesterol floats through your body and may stick to your arterial walls. HDL, the “good” cholesterol, helps whisk away the LDL cells and stops plaques from forming.
Here are some additional tips that may help you prevent plaque buildup.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Diet can play a big role in improving your heart health and reducing your risk for a buildup of plaque. It’s never too late to eat a healthier diet. You can get started with the following changes:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Eat a variety to help gain a diverse supply of nutrients.
- Add more good fats to your diet: Good fats are also called unsaturated fats. Foods like olives, nuts, avocados, and fish contain unsaturated fats.
- Cut sources of saturated fat: Examples of foods to cut include fatty meats and dairy products. Choose lean cuts of meat, and try eating more plant-based meals.
- Eliminate artificial sources of trans fats: Artificial trans fats are often high in processed, packaged foods like cookies and snack cakes. Be sure to check the labels.
- Increase your fiber intake: Soluble fiber helps lower your LDL. You can find soluble fiber in foods like vegetables, lentils, beans, and oats.
- Focus on whole grains: This includes whole-grain, minimally processed bread, pasta, and rice.
- Cut back on sugar and salt: Vitamins and minerals accompany the sugar found naturally in fruit. But the sugar in processed foods like cookies, ice cream, and sugar-sweetened beverages doesn’t have nutritional value. Too much added sugar can negatively impact your health. Avoid adding extra salt to your meals, and choose fresh herbs or spices instead.
- Reduce your intake of highly processed foods: Processed foods can include boxed and frozen items and fast food. Instead, eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
Exercise can improve your cardiovascular health and help prevent cardiac issues.
Slowly build up your routine and your stamina. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity per week. This may include brisk walks.
The CDC also recommends 2 days per week of muscle-strengthening activities that target all muscle groups. Muscle-strengthening activities may include yoga or using exercise bands, weight machines, or handheld weights.
It’s important to always talk with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine. A doctor can help determine if the types and intensity of your chosen activities are right for you. Some types of exercise may be physically unsafe if you have certain chronic conditions.
Maintain a moderate weight
When you eat better and move more, the natural result might be that you lose weight. Carrying extra weight increases your LDL cholesterol. That increases your risk for plaque buildup.
Reducing your body weight by 3% to 5% can benefit your health, including your cholesterol.
Quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake, if you smoke or drink alcohol
Smoking contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, making it more likely that plaques will form and increasing their overall growth rate. Smoking also affects the main artery in your body (the aorta).
The day you quit smoking, your health will start to rebound. Quitting smoking may help raise your HDL levels, too. Talk with a doctor if you need help quitting smoking. They can recommend smoking cessation programs and other resources.
Too much alcohol can also affect your heart. The NHLBI recommends limiting your alcohol intake to no more than 1 drink per day for females and 2 drinks per day for males. The American Heart Association also recommends limited or preferably no alcohol intake.
Alcohol can also negatively affect your cholesterol levels.
Your emotional health can directly impact your physical health, so it’s important to manage stress as best as you can. Take time to relax each day, and seek help from a therapist if you need help coping with issues you might face in your everyday life.
Take prescribed medication
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, a doctor may prescribe medication to help lower your LDL cholesterol and prevent plaques. These are designed for use alongside other heart-healthy measures, such as diet and exercise.
Statin medications are a common option. Doctors prescribe them for adults at a higher risk of developing a stroke or coronary artery disease. Other cholesterol-lowering medications may include:
- PCSK9 inhibitors
- bempedoic acid (Nexletol)
- ezetimibe (Zetia)
Be sure to take your cholesterol medication as prescribed. It is important to continue a heart-healthy diet and regular physical activity even if you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering medication.
Many medications may also work better alongside exercise and a heart-healthy diet.