Is Your Doctor Hounding You About Your Cholesterol?

Every year when I head to my family doctor for my annual physical, I know I’ll get the lecture about my cholesterol. Peter has had slightly high cholesterol for several years now and I’ve been riding the line between normal and high. If I’m not very careful, I will need to start using a medication to control my cholesterol levels and I’d really rather not have to do that if at all possible.

So this year when I went for my follow-up appointment to talk about my blood test results, I had a good chat with my doctor about what I can do to make sure I improve my cholesterol levels – or at least stop them from getting worse – between now and next year when I do all this over again. The answer surprised me.

To start, there are certain factors about high cholesterol that are out of our hands. Some people, regardless of how well they eat and how much they exercise, will still see higher numbers than others in the same age group and fitness level. Still, even among those of us who are doomed to have higher cholesterol than others with a similar body type and lifestyle, weight, exercise and diet still make a difference.

As I currently am, I am active daily or nearly daily and I feel that I eat a heart healthy diet. I’m also within my healthy weight range. So for me, it’s a matter of keeping these good lifestyle efforts going and not letting myself slip. Because I’m riding the high cholesterol line so closely, it is a matter of trying not to let things get any worse. The odds are that if I suddenly live less actively or I eat fast food more regularly I’ll end up crossing that line and needing a prescription.

I recently read that among American adults over 40 years old, 28 percent are using cholesterol medication, Peter included. I’d really rather keep myself out of that group if I can. I know that those medications are very effective and can make a significant difference. If I have to take them one day, I will. However, the fewer prescription drugs I have to take – and the longer I can wait before starting to take them – the happier I will be.

My own strategy isn’t to follow a specific diet, but I have tried to learn from some of the lessons taught in both the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet. They have very similar principles and many of them fit well into my current lifestyle. This is particularly true of using high quality fats in my diet, like olive oil. A study from the University of California, San Diego School of medicine found that when your regular diet includes the right amount healthy fats, it can help to keep cholesterol down. That said, the American Heart association found that it lowers both good and bad cholesterol, so I try to support that with healthful eating overall, regular brisk walks, other forms of activity and yoga for overall wellness. Here’s to hoping it keeps working!

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