Does your family have a history of diabetes or heart attacks? If so, it’s likely that they have high cholesterol and that you might have it too.

But what exactly is cholesterol? The American Heart Association states that it’s not inherently bad like you might have been led to believe. Instead, cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to build cells.

Unfortunately, your body can have too much cholesterol, depending on the type. And there are three types:

  • LDL cholesterol — considered the bad form of cholesterol, LDL promotes fatty buildups in your arteries, which can increase your risk of heart disease
  • HDL cholesterol — typically thought of as the good form of cholesterol, HDL helps move LDL from your arteries to your liver, where the LDL is broken down and removed from the body
  • Triglycerides — a common form of fat, triglycerides help your body store excess energy

So, when you eat foods high in LDL and regularly remain sedentary, your body will start to accumulate too much bad cholesterol, which creates fatty plaques in your arteries. As a result, you end up with a higher risk for heart disease and many other negative side effects from having high cholesterol.

Unfortunately, your cholesterol levels might not be completely related to your daily activity. If you have family members with high cholesterol issues, you may have simply inherited high levels. As Healthline notes, this likely means you have a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), which increases your risk for high cholesterol levels and heart disease at a younger age.

What can you do to offset the risks that FH brings? You can start by following these four steps.

1. Help Your Heart with a Proper Diet

If you have FH, it’s important that you keep an eye on your diet and on what you might need to change. You might like having savory steaks with butter often, but that meal has enough saturated fat and trans fat to severely raise your LDL if you eat it regularly.

The American Heart Association suggests that you plan out your diet with the following in mind:

  • Limit how much red meat and whole-milk dairy products you consume
  • Avoid having fried foods
  • Cook your meals with healthy oils like vegetable oil
  • Try to focus your mealtime on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts
  • Reduce any sugary food and beverage consumption
  • Add lots of fiber to your diet

Having your meal plan revolve around these suggestions will help you naturally reduce your LDL levels.

2. Exercise Regularly

Having a heart-healthy diet alone won’t be enough to offset the effects of FH. You also have to get your heart pumping and active, too! An active lifestyle is one of the better methods you can use to increase your HDL. With more HDL, your body can remove more LDL from its system.

According to the CDC, you should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderately intense activity each week. This will help you minimize your overall sedentary activities, and it will likely help you lose weight. And if you lose as little as 10 percent of your weight, the American Heart Association notes that you could significantly improve your high cholesterol numbers.

3. Avoid Smoking

If you have FH and you smoke, you should consider dropping that activity right away. Smoking may put you in a good mood or be a fun way to socialize, but it also lowers your HDL. What’s more, smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease for those who already have poor cholesterol levels.

4. Speak to a Doctor

At some point during your high cholesterol prevention, you should talk to your doctor. They can professionally diagnose you and determine the right high cholesterol reduction plan for your particular needs. They may even be able to give you additional assistance with medication like zetia, which gives your body the ability to block cholesterol from entering the bloodstream.

In short: don’t let your FH dictate your health. Instead, you can offset it until you hit healthy cholesterol levels from eating a good diet, getting active, forgoing smoking, and finding professional assistance.