With the right mindset and tools, lasting lifestyle change is possible.
Let’s face it: Whether it’s remembering to take a new pill every day, starting an exercise regimen, or trying to lose weight or quit smoking, modifying your lifestyle can be hard.
It may be especially difficult if you’re told you have high cholesterol, a condition which often shows no symptoms. If you feel well, it can be extra hard to find the motivation to change.
“Unfortunately, we know that if patients are not compliant with both the lifestyle modifications and medications in the setting of high cholesterol, that they are at an increased risk of several problems,” says Lawrence Phillips, MD, cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. “They're at an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and therefore it's imperative that patients stay as compliant as possible to decrease those risks." Learn more about the importance of reaching your target cholesterol levels.
While it’s true that changing your day-to-day isn’t easy, it is possible. With the right mindset and tools, you can slowly make changes that can add up to big success over the long-term.
Small Changes, Big Results
Getting a big list of lifestyle changes from your doctor can be overwhelming, but they’re often not expecting you to overhaul your life in a week. In reality, these things take time. “I think you should be coming up with a plan with your doctor, with the team in their office, to talk about what steps you're going to make between that visit and the next visit. Make achievable goals for yourself, and you're more likely to be successful than if you say you're going to change your world in one day,” says Dr. Phillips.
Bring In Tech Reinforcements
Got a smartphone? There are many ways you can use your phone or device to help you stay on track of your treatment plan.
- Log your progress. Whether it’s through an app or just in your “Notes,” keeping track of your exercise, eating habits, or days without a cigarette can help you stay motivated. A diary can also help your doctor, dietitian, or other health professional assess your progress.
- Set reminders. “When it comes to medications, compliance is really difficult. I am a fan of people using the alarms on their phone to remind them to take medications,” says Dr. Phillips.
Know Your Numbers
Alongside knowing your cholesterol numbers and what they mean for your health, it’s also important to know your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI). These health metrics give you feedback on how well your heart-healthy lifestyle changes are paying off—or if they need to be adjusted.
Cholesterol and blood sugar tests are blood tests done by your doctor. If you have diabetes, you will check your blood sugar regularly on your own with a glucose meter. Blood pressure can be done at your doctor’s office or at home. “I often encourage patients to check their blood pressure at home and keep a log,” says Dr. Phillips.
When going through any big life change, having a solid support system can help. Whether it’s a support group online or a family member or friend keeping you accountable, having that extra cushion can help you stay on course.
And remember: It’s encouraged to reach out to your doctor for support too. You and your doctor are a team, and it’s important to talk to him or her about any barriers that may be causing you to not hit your targets. “You're not failing if you're not compliant and talk to your doctor. The failure comes when you keep it to yourself and have a negative outcome because of it,” Dr. Phillips.
Lawrence Phillips, MD, is a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Phillips is the assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the assistant clinical director for strategic affairs at Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, the director of the Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory, the medical director for Outpatient Clinical Cardiology, and the associate director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.