Skip to content

Habits Secretly Increasing Your Cholesterol, Say Physicians

These lifestyle habits are raising your cholesterol, doctors warn.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Cholesterol is vital to many processes in the human body, but not all cholesterol is created equal: LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the "bad cholesterol," HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the "good cholesterol" and VLDL (very-low-density lipoproteins) carry triglycerides in the blood. "Your liver produces cholesterol. In fact, it actually produces all the cholesterol you need. The tricky part is that our diet and lifestyle habits can also influence our cholesterol levels," says Dr. Joshua Septimus, associate professor of clinical medicine and medical director of Houston Methodist Primary Care Group Same Day Clinics. Here are five habits secretly increasing your cholesterol levels. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



girl in casual clothes smoking an electronic cigarette

Smoking is linked to higher LDL cholesterol. "Smoking is so bad for your heart, and smoking really truly is one of the worst things we could do, not just for your heart, but for your brain and your lungs and all sorts of things," says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. "It's really bad for your lungs. But these risk factors are additive. So you smoke and you have high cholesterol, you have now doubled your risk. You smoke, you have high blood pressure, and you have cholesterol, it's additive. It's really additive. So it's really important for your children, for yourself, for your longevity, but for your quality of life that you don't smoke."


Obesity and Cholesterol

Plump female looking in mirror, upset about her belly.

A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater unfortunately raises the risk of high cholesterol, but losing weight can be effective in managing not just cholesterol but a host of other weight-related health conditions. "If you are obese and have high cholesterol, losing weight should help lower your cholesterol, as well as your risk for other obesity-related conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease," says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

RELATED: Here's What Endometriosis Feels Like, Say Physicians


Alcohol Consumption

alcoholic beverages

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to an increase in dangerous cholesterol, contrary to previous studies which linked alcohol with an increase in HDL cholesterol. "This is a really important factor," says Dr. Cho. "People who drink a lot of alcohol, because alcohol is made from sugar, they have very high triglycerides. And really high triglyceride increases your risk for diabetes, for pancreatitis, and having high triglycerides in women is especially problematic because it increases your risk for stroke. And so it's really important to try to control your triglyceride." 

RELATED: Reasons Most People Gain "Too Much" Abdominal Fat


Poor Diet

Woman craving junk food while on a diet

According to Harvard Health, red meat, fried foods, processed meats, and baked goods should be avoided if you have high cholesterol. "Certain foods, like oatmeal, nuts, and fatty fish, help to keep your cholesterol levels in check," says Stephanie Watson, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch. "And not all high cholesterol foods are bad for you. For example, eggs are high in cholesterol, but they're also packed with protein and other nutrients. It's the foods that are high in saturated fat that you need to worry about, because they can raise your cholesterol levels AND make you gain weight."

RELATED: If You Notice This on Your Body, Have Your Arms Checked


Not Getting Enough Exercise

lazy couple

A sedentary lifestyle can raise the risk of high cholesterol, but working out can help lower it. "Exercise is a great place to start if you're trying to lower bad cholesterol," says Dr. Cho, who recommends brisk walks, cycling, and swimming as the best exercises to lower cholesterol. "But it doesn't stop there. Combining exercise with healthier diet and lifestyle choices makes the most impact. Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if your high cholesterol is putting you at more immediate risk for heart disease or stroke."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan