Concerns of heart disease have many people focused on lowering their cholesterol levels. But not all cholesterol is bad; the HDL type of cholesterol is considered a healthy cholesterol, reports the WebMD website. High levels of HDL are just as important for heart health as keeping the bad cholesterol levels low. HDL is found in many foods and can be increased though simple lifestyle changes. Knowing what this healthy cholesterol does and how to increase levels of HDL in the blood reduces the risk of heart disease.
Types of Cholesterol
The main types of cholesterol measured in tests are triglycerides, LDL and HDL, according to the Mayo Clinic. Both triglycerides and LDL cholesterols are the bad cholesterols–the lower the levels of these, the better. You want high levels of HDL, the healthy cholesterol. For HDL, a result of 60 mg/dL or higher is best for most individuals, according to the Mayo Clinic’s cholesterol chart.
A lipid profile or lipid panel measures all these important cholesterol levels. This is done through a simple blood test with results available in a few days. The measurement used, mg/dL, refers to milligrams (mg) of cholesterol found in each deciliter of blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What HDL Does
HDL stands for high-density lipoproteins. Essentially, HDL cholesterol cleans up the blood. As it flows through the blood, the HDL collects bad cholesterol and transports it to the liver to be broken down and removed from the body. Beyond cleaning the blood, the Mayo Clinic also reports that HDL may do a lot more than just clean the blood. Researchers theorize that HDL may also act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting agent. It is believed that HSL also maintains the lining of blood vessels preventing damage that causes atherosclerosis, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Exercise Increases HDL
Lowering bad cholesterol through exercise and weight loss has the side benefit of also increasing HDL. Losing weight especially around the waistline works to raise this healthy cholesterol. Getting 120 minutes a week total of exercise that gets your heart pumping has proven to increase an average person’s HDL by 5 percent within two months, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Foods That Increase HDL
Not all fat is bad. In fact, the right kinds of fat are good for you and necessary to increasing HDL levels and keeping hearts healthy, reports the Mayo Clinic. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the good fats that increase good cholesterol levels. Olive oil, fish, nuts, canola oil and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids all are stated by the Mayo Clinic to help increase a body’s HDL levels.