I was seated in the exam room waiting to see Dr. Trestor for my annual physical.
I had been in about a week before to have a blood panel done and was curious how it had turned out. My family has a strong history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and I really wanted to follow a new path rather than the family path.
Then, the door opens and in walks Dr. Trestor. In his 60′s with grey hair that looked like a blend of Bob Dylan and Einstein, he extends his hand, huge grin on his face, and says, “You must feel fantastic!”
As a strong Introvert, I have trouble connecting the word “feeling” to “fantastic”or “excited”. So, when he said I must feel fantastic, I just sort of mumbled something incoherent and then my mind finally snapped into place and I said, “Well, uh..yeah I feel pretty good but why do you say that?”
Dr. Trestor then pulled out a sheet of paper with all of my lab results on it. He was beaming. He said, “You just don’t see lab results like this in guys your age. You just don’t. I mean, this is perfect!”
And it was perfect to my great relief.
The Good News About Cholesterol
A few years ago, my cholesterol numbers were teetering on the edge of not-so-good.
I, like most people, was aware of the “good” and “bad” cholesterol: Low Density Lipid (LDL) being the “bad” and High Density Lipid (HDL) being the “good”.
People who have LDL levels that are too high often end up on medication to help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease since conventional wisdom suggests that elevated LDL is not good thing.
But, what you may not know is that raising your HDL is even more important in preventing heart attack and stroke. In fact, it’s more important to raise your HDL than it is to lower your LDL.
Now, before we go on, you should know that this idea of raising HDL is under some debate within the medical community.
There are some studies that have shown little benefitother studies suggest the opposite here
So, what do you do?
Remember that the ratio – the comparison of total cholesterol to HDL is strongly correlated with heart / cardiovascular health. It’s not just one number or another.
And, in the most recent study that showed little benefit to raising HDL using niacin, the results showed that HDL was raised to 42 mg/dl and LDL lowered to 62 mg/dl.
The optimum levels for HDL? 60 mg/dl or higher.
So, the study raised HDL but barely over the minimum levels for a male (40 mg/dl) and not even close for a female (50 mg/dl).
Okay, enough about that.
How to Raise Your HDL
If you’ve been to your doctor lately and had blood work done, you might wondering why your doctor didn’t tell you this.
Well, one reason is medicine has no pharmaceutical option to raise HDL. Your doctor can’t prescribe a medication to help you.
The only way you can raise HDL is by adjusting what you eat and how you train.
The first step is to reduce carbohydrates in your diet. I don’t mean cut the carrots and broccoli but cut out the refined carbs, sugar, pasta, cake, pizza, crackers, tortillas, and all Jack-in-the-Box runs. A low carbohydrate diet will raise HDL1
Yes, you might really enjoy these “foods” (using the word loosely) that have to go but if you’re already in the high LDL/low HDL camp, have a family history of heart disease, are carrying more weight than you should, are on statins for cholesterol control, you’re on a fast track for trouble.
I don’t mean to rain doom and gloom on you. My intent is to help you live a long, full, vibrant, fun life. That is very difficult to do if you have a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that, in a lot of cases, those events are preventable by altering your lifestyle.
But, you have to want the lifestyle change more than you want a cheese enchilada or Fettucini Alfredo with bread sticks. Lifestyle changes are made day to day, moment to moment.
Add physical training to your week.
For your HDL to go up, you have two options: Long, slow distance LSD) or moderate to high intensity training (HIT).
LSD has been shown to lower LDL more than raise HDL although it has an effect on both. The problem with this approach is the time it takes (more time per session has been shown to be better), the higher impact loads on your joints (running in particular) and you still need to put in some training to develop and maintain the five other pillars of active aging: strength, balance, flexibility, core endurance, power, and stamina.
Who has time for all of that?
So, LSD, while an option to improve your cholesterol numbers, is not really the best one. Yes, you’ll improve one pillar of aging well : aerobic capacity. And you’ll lower your LDL which is a good thing but you won’t change your strength, flexibility, balance, power, core endurance, or stamina a lick.
Moderate to high intensity training means basically you get hot, sweaty, and out of breath for brief periods of time and then repeat it for several minutes.
While you could hop on a stationary bike and peddle like mad, you run into the same kind of problem as LSD: you’ll improve your HDL and aerobic capacity but not many of the other pillars of aging well.
Instead, use natural movements like you’ll find in Fusion
And, you can do all of this in 45 minutes or less.
For example, the two drills below use a lot of muscle, multiple joints and take advantage of multiple planes of motion (often referred to as 3D) – something a weight training machine can’t do.
Here’s why all of this matters to you.
- Save money and avoid pain. Statins are expensive and come with some really nice side effects like muscle and joint pain. It’s a lot less expensive and less painful to change what you eat and how you train.
- Lower your risk of stroke and heart attack. When you’re 20, you don’t even think about this stuff but when you hit 40 or 45, and maybe a parent has died from a stroke or a friend has had a heart attack, it slithers to the forefront of your mind.
- Get in better shape, have a better shape, and feel in better shape. Yes, some day science will likely come up with a drug to boost your HDL but guess what? You won’t be any healthier really. Not a bit stronger or more flexible or leaner.
How about you? Ready to age well?
Creator of Fusion Performance Training – a member’s only club
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- Volek, J. S., M. J. Sharman, et al. (2005). “Modification of lipoproteins by very low-carbohydrate diets.” J Nutr 135(6): 1339-1342. [↩