An HDL cholesterol level of 90 mg/dL is considered optimal. HDL levels in the 60-100 mg/dL range are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, so the higher, the better.
Numerous factors can affect HDL levels, including your diet, weight, physical activity level, age, sex, race, and genetics.
Diet: Diets that are high fiber and low in added sugars and unhealthy fats promote higher HDL levels.
Alcohol consumption: Some evidence suggests moderate alcohol consumption may increase HDL levels . For healthy adults, that’s < 1 drink/day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and < 2 drinks a day for men aged 65 and younger .
Weight. Being at a healthy weight promotes higher HDL levels.
Physical Activity. Regular exercise can increase HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL levels.
Age and Sex: Women tend to have higher HDL levels than men, though their levels typically decrease after menopause.
Genetics (heredity): Genetics play a role in cholesterol production, which is why family members commonly have similar HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.
Race. Blacks/African Americans are more likely to have higher HDL levels. However, if you have other risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes, these may outweigh the health benefits of having a higher HDL level .
An HDL level of 90 mg/dL is good for your overall health. If your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels are in the normal range, it also reduces your risk for heart disease in the future.
Because “bad” cholesterol levels tend to increase with age, it’s best to put heart-healthy habits into place now. Here are some things you can do to help keep your HDL cholesterol level in the optimal range:
Get 30-60 minutes of exercise at least 5x/week.
Eat a high-fiber diet. Gradually increase your fiber intake to 30-40 g/day if you’re currently consuming less.
Avoid trans fats (like hydrogenated oils) and limit your saturated fat intake to < 10% of total calories.
Eat small, fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, and mackerel, at least twice a week.
Lose excess weight if you are overweight or obese.
Manage stress and get adequate sleep as stress promotes inflammation that can lower HDL levels.
Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know. (n.d.). U.S. National Library of Medicine | NIH. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterollevelswhatyouneedtoknow.html
Carotid Artery Disease. (n.d.). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute | NIH. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/carotid-artery-disease
High cholesterol. (n.d.). NHS Inform. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/blood-and-lymph/high-cholesterol
Racette, S. B., Lin, X., Lefevre, M., Spearie, C. A., Most, M. M., Ma, L., & Ostlund, R. E., Jr (2010). Dose effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism: a controlled feeding study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 91(1), 32–38. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.28070
Cholesterol: Types, Tests, Treatments, Prevention. (2020, July 31). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11920-cholesterol-numbers-what-do-they-mean
HDL cholesterol: How to boost your “good” cholesterol. (2020, November 10). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/hdl-cholesterol/art-20046388
HDL: The “Good” Cholesterol. (2019, April 18). National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/hdlthegoodcholesterol.html
Blood Cholesterol | NHLBI, NIH. (2021, January 4). National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-cholesterol