Can walking lower cholesterol or you need to take medication to get your numbers down?
Not everyone agrees that lowering cholesterol naturally with exercise is possible. Conventionally trained doctors prefer writing prescriptions. A well-chosen medication always predictably slashes cholesterol numbers, exercise isn’t that clear cut. Exercise produces varied effects and its cholesterol-lowering property is not highly reliable.
Is lowering cholesterol with walking better than taking pills?
Some people wonder if they wouldn’t be better off “going with pills”, instead of getting a gym membership. It’s less effort, less time, and the cholesterol-lowering effects are guaranteed.
But despite the obvious lure of the pills, consider a few reasons why you may want to put prescriptions on the back burner:
- All drugs have side effects. Expect them, even if your doctor does not tell you so, even if you think they are “good for you”
- Meds change lab numbers, but do not make your body any healthier
- Meds are one of the biggest environmental pollutants. Ingesting does not make them environment friendly. They come out in a pee.
Lower cholesterol naturally if you love your planet
Pill popping is popular, because it’s convenient. Exercise can’t beat that, but it has other benefits that need to be considered. Lowering cholesterol naturally (by exercise or walking) has can not only improve health, but also prevent unnecessary meddling with the ecosystem.
It is not only cheaper and healthier but it is also much friendlier towards the environment. Lifestyle changes do not damage our already fragile planetary ecosystem, as drug metabolites do. With 70% of Americans taking and peeing out prescriptions meds daily we should not be surprised to learn that our balsamic-glazed salmon fillet becomes inedible, because it is stuffed with drugs.[i] It’s not the salmon’s fault. It is ours.
How many steps to lower cholesterol?
One of my patients, an elderly man was concerned about his blood work. He wanted to lower his cholesterol. He thought it would be prudent to do so, because he was a diabetic and had compromised kidneys. He considered dietary changes to be extremely difficult. He was not only set in his ways, but his delicate state required specific dietary interventions.
Luckily he was open to discussion and lifestyle modernization. I asked him to get a FitBit. He did and he actually liked it. I ask him to wear it just so for a week, to find out his activity baseline. It shortly became obvious that he is quite inactive, mostly sitting, seldom moving about.
I explained the problem to him and made a few calculations. He needed approximately 12,000 steps day in, day out to start losing weight… and naturally lower cholesterol as a result.
We agreed that his 3,000 daily steps weren’t enough and he needed to increase the activity level. He was open to walking even though his gouty feet presented a problem. We decided that if his gout acts up he should aim for about 6,000 steps, but when his feet are fine he should aim for 15,000.
Three months later I saw the man again, together with a new set of blood work. Before I looked at the numbers, he said he was faithfully making 10,000 steps a day.
I glanced at the report. The cholesterol results were so altered that I asked if he did not start prescription drugs. He said he didn’t.
Walking can lower cholesterol better than pills
You can lower cholesterol naturally even if you don’t change your diet. Look carefully at the before and after numbers.
|Before mg/dl (mmol/l)||After 3 mo of 10,000 steps||Change|
|Total chol||241.0 (6.2)||220.6 (5.7)||Lower by 9%|
|LDL (bad chol)||161.3 (4.2)||122.0 (3.2)||Lower by 24%|
|HDL (good chol)||39.7 (1.0)||57.7 (1.5)||Increased by 45%|
|Chol/HDL ratio||6.07||3.82||Lower by 37%|
|LDL/HDL ratio||4.06||2.12||Lower by 48%|
How are those new numbers? They are outstanding! They could be the source of envy of every patient and doctor aspiring to lower cholesterol numbers.
- You are not on prescription meds, these may skew the outcome
- Your current lifestyle is sedentary and you are mostly inactive
- You are capable of consistently making 10,000 steps a day
- You can walk outdoors, because walking on a treadmill indoor is not the same
The best way to lower cholesterol
Large studies agree that it is not the medication, but exercise that should be the first-line prescription for lowering cholesterol. Research suggests that both moderate and vigorous exercise is very beneficial for reducing heart disease.
One 6-year study that followed nearly 50 thousand people determined that walking reduces high cholesterol and high blood pressure similarly to running, provided that the expended calories are the same. Eg. 300 calories burned walking vs. 300 calories burned running gave the same cholesterol-and blood pressure- lowering effect.
However, they noted that faster walking or running yielded better results than slower walking or running. This would suggest that caloric expenditure is more important for the heart health than the choice of exercise.[ii] Keep that in mind.
10,000 steps is not for everyone
However, not everyone can benefit from 10,000 steps a day. I tried. Instead of improving, my health deteriorated and I started to put on weight. The reason for such failure is simple. I normally make about 12,000-20,000 steps a day and 10,000 represent a drastic reduction of my physical activity.
Here is a lesson for you. Before you aim for 10,000 steps you need to first determine your own activity baseline with FitBit or some other wearable gadget. Only then you can decide on your walking goal.
Why lower cholesterol naturally to save the environment
Before reaching for a stack of convenient pills, weigh the costs and benefits of the convenience. Remember, that pills only provide temporary change in lab parameters. Exercise, on the other hand, provides longer-lasting health effect and does not hurt the environment.
Did you know that about 80-90% of ground and surface water in USA is contaminated with drug residue that is not indifferent to our ecosystem. Fish gets stuffed with chemicals, beneficial insects disappear and aggressive species start spreading out of control.
There are at least 20 other reasons why you should leave pills as the last resort. The Cholesterol Trap is a great resource on the topic. Read it before going to a pharmacy.
Think big. Make the effort. Walk. Get in shape. Get back to health, because you CAN lower cholesterol by walking, without putting a dent on the planet Earth.