Total cholesterol is the amount of cholesterol in your blood. It is made up of HDL, the “good” cholesterol, LDL, the “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood.  

Ideal numbers:

Total Cholesterol: Less than 200
HDL: More than 40 for men, more than 50 for women
LDL: Less than 100* Triglycerides: Less than 150

*Your nurse or doctor may want your LDL to be less than 70 if you have many risk factors.


Cholesterol is just one risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Make sure you discuss all of your risk factors with your nurse or doctor to set your own cholesterol goals. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Risk factors you can’t change:
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Age (men 45 years or older, women 55 years or older)

Risk factors you can change:
  • Smoking cigarettes or cigars
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Not enough exercise
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Overweight, mainly around your waist
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL cholesterol

 Having 3 or more of these last bolded risk factors increases your chance for diabetes as well as heart attack or stroke. It is even more important to make lifestyle changes.

No matter what your risk factors, you have the power to improve your health.


When you choose healthy foods, you can help make all of your cholesterol numbers better.

  • Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit everyday
  • Eat 3 servings of fiber-rich whole grains a day. Choose foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice & oatmeal
  • Eat fish at least 2 times a week. Choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines and trout.
  • Eat healthy fats such as fatty fish, vegetable oils, avocados and nuts
  • Limit bad saturated fats found in fatty meats, whole milk, butter, ice cream & cheese
  • Don’t eat trans fats found in baked goods, snack foods and fast foods
  • Eat less food that is high in cholesterol: egg yolks & organ meats
  • Limit soda, sports drinks, fruit juices and alcohol. Drink water, low fat milk or skim milk instead.
  • Cut down on calories, salt and portion sizes. This is even more important if you are overweight and have high blood pressure and high blood sugar.


Losing weight helps you lower your bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It can raise your good HDL too.

Aim for a healthy weight – ask your nurse, doctor or dietitian what a healthy weight is for you.

Tips for losing weight:
  1. Step on the scale at least once a week to keep track of your weight. Write it down.
  2. Fill up on fiber-rich foods. Pick foods high in fiber like oats, beans, vegetables, and fruits.
  3. Start your day with breakfast. Don’t skip it!
  4. Eat smaller portions by using smaller plates. Share meals when eating out.
  5. Limit alcohol and sugary drinks to reduce calories.
  6. Save sweets for special occasions.
  7. Exercise most days. The more you move, the more you lose. It may take up to 60 to 90 minutes of activity during your day to lose weight.


Talk to your nurse or doctor before starting or changing your exercise plan to find out what activities are safe for you.

Why is exercise good for you?

It helps prevent heart attack and stroke by:

  • Burning calories to help you lose weight
  • Lowering your blood sugar
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Reducing stress, depression and anxiety
Exercise improves strength, balance and fitness. It also gives you more energy

Your exercise plan:
  1. Choose and activity that you like. Walk, bike, swim, dance or hike most days.
  2. Warm up and stretch before you exercise.
  3. Exercise at a comfortable pace.
  4. Aim for 30-60 minutes of activity a day. You can break it up into 10-15 minutes at a time. Some activity is better than none!
  5. Take time to cool down and stretch after you exercise.


Sometimes diet and exercise are not enough to improve your cholesterol. When this happens, your nurse or doctor may prescribe a medicine. Some people need more than one cholesterol medicine to reach their goals. These medicines can be lifesaving.

How do cholesterol medicines work?

There are many types of medicines used to treat cholesterol. Ask your nurse or doctor to explain how your cholesterol medicines work. Find out if there are side effects that you should know about.

Get the most out of your medicines:

After 4 to 6 weeks of taking cholesterol medicines, your nurse or doctor may order blood tests. These tests make sure the medicines are working and are safe.


Small changes can make a big difference in improving all of your cholesterol numbers. You can do it! Get started today!

Actions you can take
  • Know your cholesterol numbers and goals.
  • Count your risk factors for heart attack and stroke
  • Learn about your medicines.

Lifestyle changes you can make
  • Stop smoking. Call 1 800-784-8669 or visit to get help today.
  • Eat healthy foods. Choose vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, whole grains, and health fats.
  • Watch your weight. Even losing 5 to 10 pounds can make a big difference.
  • Get moving and stay active! Add activity into your day, even 10 minutes at a time.


Download & print information about cholesterol

This booklet will help you improve your cholesterol with diet, exercise, and medicines. Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. You need some cholesterol to be healthy, but too much can build up in the blood vessels and may cause a heart attack or stroke.

Disclaimer: This and other PCNA educational materials are for information purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice or diagnose or treat health problems. Health-related decisions should be made in partnership with a healthcare provider. It is the reader's responsibility to seek out the most current, accurate information.