Impact of taking up running on cholesterol ?

Back in January I was called in to the GP for a checkup. Apparently they were seeing all men 50-55 who they hadn't seen for a while. I was told that I was not overweight and that my heart-rate, blood pressure, liver (amazingly) and prostate were all very good. My cholesterol level however was too high at 6.7 (should be 5 or less, ideally 4) although my ratio of 'good' HDL to total cholesterol was OK at 3.4 (should be less than 4). The GP wanted to prescribe me a daily statin which I politely refused saying I would improve my lifestyle instead.

That is why I started doing C25K. I graduated 9 weeks later and have been running on and off up to 10k ever since. I also changed my diet. I switched from white bread to brown, ate more fruit and replaced my daily lunch of a Ginsters cornish pasty (yes really, I had one almost every day) with super-healthy mackerel on toast. I also stopped drinking wine midweek which reduced my weekly units considerably. The impact of all this was that I lost nearly a stone so I am now a very slim 10.5 stone and really pretty darn fit for my age.

So last week I went back for a retest to see the impact of this healthy lifestyle on my cholesterol and guess what? It has gone up! My 'good' HDL is up from 1.9 to 2.3 but my 'bad' cholesterol has stayed exactly the same so my overall level is now 7.1. My ratio of 'good' to total though has improved from 3.4 to 3.0. I spoke to a different GP this time and she said that I definitely did NOT need to take a statin as all my risk factors were now low. This is a good thing I suppose but boy am I confused. Has anyone else had similar contrarian results since taking up running?

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16 Replies

  • Hi KK. If you read 3 articles you get 3 opposing bits of advice. I think I will take the high HDL and low ratio as being a good thing and just forget about the overall level as you suggest.

  • Your post made me chuckle. I too am a similar age - coming up to 52. At xmas I had a physical at BUPA and heart, lungs, liver, eyes etc are all fine my cholesterol however was 7, LDL 4.8, hdl 1.2. Similarly I am at a healthy weight for my height but could do with losing some. So why the chuckle? I started looking into bad and good cholesterol on the internet and there is so much conflicting advice. My GP blamed a western diet. I learned that rather than 5 the acceptable value used to be 6 and 7 is closer to 6 than it is to 5. So a few years ago they wouldn't consider statins.

    I think if you are running, feeling fit, and happy then don't worry about your cholesterol readings. I have read worrying things about statins as well. I also read that eating saturated fats such as cheese and olive oil etc can actually reduce your cholesterol levels.

    Cholesterol is present when scabs form if you cut yourself. Doctors could measure that and then say that scraping your knees causes higher cholesterol and means you are more likely to have health problems as it triggers cholesterol and that is present at higher readings when people have heart problems. You sound fit and healthy so enjoy it. Just my non-medical view.

  • Thanks GF. I think you are right. I did everything right and mine went up (but was still an improvement apparently). It does nothing to improve my very dismal view of health advice in general and GPs in particular. One wants to put me on a pill a day for the next 40 years (how much would that cost the NHS?) and the other says definitely not...

  • I know you like your stats but the simple fact is that your body is fitter, you are eating healthier, and I bet you feel so much better....other than that its all numbers to me. My stepdad had high cholesterol, he went away and ate melons for 2 weeks ( not joking), and when he went back it had significantly dropped!!! I believe in listening to your body and looking after it...take care.....

  • Hmm. Melons eh? I'll give it a go JJ. Thanks

  • Not suggesting you do the melon, but just an illustration of The crazy side of stats....

  • My OH, who is obese, eats crap and drinks like a fish, had to go to the doc for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. He was instantly put on Statins, and shown the door. Doctors can't be bothered to lecture everyone on what they are doing to themselves as they think they might just as well talk to the wall, so handing out pills is easier. My husband thinks it's a licence to carry on eating and drinking to excess cos the pills will sort it out.

  • I also had one of these MOT checkups when i was 59. Although it was 4 months after i started running my cholesterol levels were high at 7.1 and i was told that if i could not reduce it naturally i would need to go on to statins. At the same time despite having a PSA reading normally associated with an 18 year old i was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I became more health conscious and over the next few months my fitness improved greatly. My PSA level was checked 2 months later and it had been reduced to 6.4. A further 12 months and it was down to 5.3 which the forms states as normal as the ratio is 2.96. When having treatment for the cancer i felt extremely fit and was like a coil on a spring. I had a number of overnight stays in hospital and rather than be confined to bed i went walkies out of boredom which involved walking up and down the staircase to the building which consisted of 20+ storeys. I don't put it all down to running but it has been the biggest contributor to improving my health.

  • Cripes BB that puts some perspective on it. Are you clear now?

  • In Sweden, they don't offer you statins unless your cholesterol level is over 8.

    On my 60s check up, mine was 8.2. I refused them.

    Was a bad time for me so I did not change anything.

    I was called back 6 months later, which I did not expect, and ho and behold, my level had gone down to 6.4!

    My conclusion was that with cholesterol you also have good and bad days. Obviously first time was a very bad day.

    I don't know what my level is now and I don't care. It will be another 8 years before I find out, but I must admit I now feel happier, better and fitter.

    Worrying about your levels is probably making them worse.

    So chill out, keep the healthy new lifestyle and don't forget to have fun. Life is too short for anything else.

  • Hi FF. I think I agree about good & bad days. The GP said as much.

  • Chrisl

    My experience has been similar to yours. I have had extremely high cholesterol readings for 30 years now - they always want me to take drugs and I have always refused. IF I had stated taking them when they wanted me to , I would have been taking them now for over 20 years.

    But I did have a blood test a month ago -- just to see how my new "fitness" and weight loss had changed anything. Everything was fine -- except that my cholesterol level had RISEN!!!!

  • Hmm. I suspect it is all bull Bazza. The latest GP said your cholesterol count varied day-to-day so it may not be worth worrying about.

    BTW that new photo of yours.... you must have lost about 6 stone since the last one!

  • Nope -- only about 4Kg since running this year -- but maybe 7-8 Kg since the old photo. We did a 4 month "Round the World" cruise via 3 weeks in the UK -- put on a bit of weight then!!!

  • Zoe Harcombe made an interesting post about Cholesterol which is well worth a read if you have time *other articles by other authors are available :)

    The use of Statins is hot debate currently and I think it comes down personal choice to whether a person takes them or not, I know what my choice would be.

  • Thanks OlsBean. I have read that blog before and have just reread it. Very interesting but ultimately adding to the confusion...

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