Cholesterol Update — increasing carbs and exercise

In late 2008 I started an experiment: I switched to a low carb diet to see what impact it would have on the level of HDL in my bloodstream. In that post and the followup I reported how reducing carbohydrates and exercising a bit dramatically improved my cholesterol.

Since then, I’ve moved to St. Louis. It’s been great, but I have definitely slacked off on the diet. There’s a Jimmy Johns two doors down from the office that makes a great italian sandwich, I’ve been eating english muffins for breakfast, and my office stocks chocolate covered raisins, which I’ve discovered I love. Balancing that out is the fact that I didn’t bring a car with me when I moved. I have a bicycle, and every day I bike 2.5 miles each way to work — yes, even the snow days. I noticed my weight went up to about 185, an increase of 15 pounds. Some of that was likely muscle from all the biking, but certainly not all. So the question is: does the exercise excuse the low-carb slacking? The short answer is: somewhat.

About five years ago my wife bought me a rowing machine, which I love. Eventually I had to scale back my use of it due to an unrelated back injury, but when I was really rowing, my cholesterol was at 190, with an HDL of 50. That’s pretty good, but not as good as it was last summer with the low-carb diet and far less exercise. In August my cholesterol was at 152, and my HDL was at 50. Now I’m exercising more than I was in August, but less than I was five years ago, and my diet is higher in carbohydrates than it was in August, but lower than it was five years ago. Today my cholesterol checked in at 184, with HDL of 49. Putting it in table format:

Time Diet Exercise HDL Total Ratio
Five years ago High Carb Significant 50 190 3.8
Aug 2009 Low Carb Significant on weekends 50 152 3.0
Feb 2010 Moderate Carb Moderate daily 49 184 3.8

So if significant exercise on weekends is equivalent to moderate exercise every day, the conclusion is fairly clear: all three plans achieved roughly the same HDL, but Low Carb with at least exercise on the weekend was able to raise HDL while lowering overall cholesterol. This is a significant improvement.

So I’m going to have to figure out how to get a low-carb diet here. Good-bye english muffins, you were good while you lasted.

As an aside:

  • Resting Pulse: 53
  • Blood Pressure: 96/74 today, 104/60 yesterday
  • Fasting glucose: 87
  • Triglycerides: 45 — this is an especially good number.

3 thoughts on “Cholesterol Update — increasing carbs and exercise

  1. Darren Davis

    Hey Geoff – which Concept2 model/monitor do you have? Thinking about making the investment (again this year), and looks like Model D is plenty good enough, but would love your opinion.

  2. gcanyon Post author

    Hi Darren — as far as I know the main difference is that the E is taller. The E also comes standard with a newer computer, but you can get that as an option on the D for less than the E. I noticed that I didn’t really answer the question: I have the D, with the older computer.

    I’m fine with the D. I’d say the key for me was having it set up ready to go, headphones connected to the TV, and a heart rate monitor (you can get an attachment for the rower that works with standard Polar heart monitor bands). I found that I could row an easy half hour every day, heart rate never more than 150 (which is comfortable for me — really working is 170-180) and show progress for very little pain.

    The thing I really like about (any of) the concept 2s is the ability to measure over time. I did 30 minutes at 150 heart rate dozens of times, and saw the distance I covered go up and up. The machine itself records the results, and you can enter them online as well. The online community is really supportive as well. If you have goals you can post them online and have your own cheering section.


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