Modern medicine has developed several safe, effective drugs that help people lower their risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — "bad" cholesterol.

With all the public emphasis on lowering bad cholesterol, it is easy to forget that high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — "good" cholesterol — is important, too. Higher levels of HDL are associated with lower risk of heart attack or stroke.

For most people, simple lifestyle changes can do the trick.

The good news is that you may not need a prescription drug to raise your HDL. According to the June 2008 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch, for most people, simple lifestyle changes can do the trick.

Harvard Women's Health Watch offers five key things anyone can do to bring up HDL levels.
  1. Get regular aerobic exercise. Moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise can boost HDL by 5% to 10%. Five 30-minute sessions per week are ideal.
  2. Lose weight. If you are overweight, the more you lose the better, but you can raise your HDL by losing as little as a couple of pounds.
  3. Quit smoking. HDL levels shoot up as much as 15% to 20% after your last cigarette.
  4. Eat healthy. Avoid trans fats, which increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol. Avoid refined carbohydrates, such as white-flour products.
  5. Consider medications. Niacin, available over the counter, is the most effective HDL-raising medication available. Remember, however, that niacin is strong medicine — talk to your doctor before using it.