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Heart Disease overview > Heart Health Q&A >

Lowering Cholesterol without Meds

Q: I am a 50-year-old male in good health. I am 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh 185 pounds. I exercise 30 minutes at a time, four days a week, and eat right most of the time. My cholesterol is 240; my triglycerides are almost 200. My doctor wants me to start cholesterol-lowering medication. Can I lower my risk without taking medication?

A: Congratulations! You are already lowering your heart-disease risk by exercising regularly and trying to eat right. You could do more, however, especially if you want to lower your lipid levels and avoid taking medication. First, try to increase your amount of exercise. A healthy goal for everyone should be at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking, biking, or swimming) most, if not all, days of the week. You will strengthen your heart, raise HDL (good) cholesterol, burn more calories, and, no doubt, feel better. 

Another way to lower your risk is to lose weight. Your body mass index (BMI) of 26.5 puts you in the “overweight” category. (Click here to calculate your BMI). A healthy BMI is less than 25, which for your height means you should weigh less than 175 pounds. Some people’s lipid levels respond well to modest weight loss.

Also, take a closer look at your eating habits. To lower your cholesterol, limit saturated fats and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limiting intake of simple sugars, desserts, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol can lower triglyceride levels. After making these changes, have your lipids rechecked to see if your efforts have been enough to reach the goal your doctor has set for you. Good luck!

Sharonne Hayes, M.D., is associate professor of medicine and cardiology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.

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