Managing cholesterol without or in addition to the use of medication is best done with a combination of diet and exercise. According to WebMD, daily exercise reduces LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, and increases HDL, or "good" cholesterol, by up to 10 percent. Switching to a diet that's low in cholesterol reduces the amount of cholesterol that's consumed, but might not have a measurable effect, as the body produces cholesterol itself.
Dietary changes often have a major impact on cholesterol levels. Cutting saturated and trans fats and processed foods can help with cholesterol, notes Harvard Medical School. Trans fats in particular may negatively affect heart health. Packages listing partially hydrogenated ingredients indicate the presence of trans fats.
Some saturated fats are acceptable, but polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are a healthier option, according to Harvard Medical School. These types of fats lower bad cholesterol levels. Oils made from plants such as olive, canola and grapeseed contain the healthier fats. Other sources include fish, nuts, avocados and seeds.
Whole grains and food high in fiber also help with cholesterol levels, advises Mayo Clinic. The soluble fiber in foods such as oatmeal and beans decreases LDL levels. Whole grains tend to have more fiber than highly processed grains.
In addition to a diet- and exercise-based approach, certain supplements are suspected of having a positive effect on LDL levels. The Mayo Clinic notes that few supplements have been demonstrated to have such an effect in double-blind medical trials, but recommends some dietary or nutritional supplements as promising. Barley, for example, may reduce LDL without noticeable side effects, and it has the advantage of being widely available in bread, muffins and other common food sources. Some supplements, however, should be taken only with a doctor's approval, as they sometimes cause unpleasant side effects. In this group are artichoke extract, beta sisterol and ground flaxseed. Each of these can induce gas, bloating or diarrhea. Some supplements, such as flaxseed and fish oil, can even interfere with prescription medications, making it imperative that a doctor be consulted before new supplements are tried, states the Mayo Clinic.
Even moderate exercise five days per week helps improve cholesterol levels. Regular exercise may increase HDL levels by 10 percent, states WebMD. The physical activity also decreases the bad LDL levels. Smoking lowers the good cholesterol levels in the body, so kicking the habit can improve cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.