While April may be the month for Fools, I can tell you it’s no joke that living a Vegan lifestyle can lower your cholesterol. While your mileage may vary, I’m living testimony that Veganism — mixed with daily, moderate, low-impact, exercise — can lower your blood cholesterol level from a high risk ratio to a moderate one.

Veganism vs. Strict Vegetarianism
You may take issue with my stance that Veganism lowers blood cholesterol since some may call the diet I follow more a lifestyle regime than a “diet.” While it’s true you may be able to get the same results by following a “strict Vegetarian” diet of no eggs, no dairy and no meat, I believe going the extra moral mile of not wearing or using the animal products I’m not eating is just as important to my new positive state of health as what I chew and swallow.

18 Months Ago
One and a half years ago ago I was diagnosed as overweight and out of shape by a doctor upon an ordinary office visit for some intermittent side pain. I ended up getting a full physical on the spot! It had been over 15 years since I’d had a physical. I weighed 212 pounds. I stood 5’10” tall. My age was 32. My blood pressure was 150/100. My blood cholesterol was 250. My primary care physician at that time urged me to eat garlic, fruits and vegetables and get re-tested in six months to re-check my weight loss and blood cholesterol levels. That advice was rather vague and imprecise and it took me 18 months to head back to the doctor for another physical.

The reason I waited so long to get a physical in the first place was that I’ve always had a positive body image and a youthful feeling of immortality and invincibility. I was strong and muscular in high school and college and when the inevitable metabolism change took hold of me in my late 20’s, it didn’t really bother me much because even though I was wearing larger sizes, I still saw a fit guy in the mirror. I’d always been light weight, so having some extra heft and “power” was an interesting experience for a few years: “Throwing your weight around” took on a whole new meaning! Knowing what I know now, however, I realize I was killing myself by degrees each day with my overweight experiment.

As an author, I sit in a chair all day. I work out of my home. My daily routine was out of bed, at the computer, in the bathroom and around the kitchen. I never had to walk more than 20 feet to reach one of the stations of my 15 hour writing day. While that’s terribly convenient, it’s also incredibly deadly because your body doesn’t move much and that doesn’t encourage good health.

I realized I had some work to do after that first watershed physical. I began to walk every day. I started out walking 10 minutes and then upped it to 30 minutes. I made an effort to cut down on the donuts and pizza and meat and dairy and eggs. I cut out 80% of the meat, dairy and eggs from my diet anticipating a radical drop in my cholesterol levels. I also began some low-impact exercise over the last six months in order to raise my stamina and clean up my blood even more.

10 Weeks Ago
I visited a new primary care physician three months ago for my first physical in 18 months. My heart was in good shape. My blood pressure was better at around 135/86. I weighed 176. I was incredibly disappointed to learn my blood cholesterol level was still high at 220! I couldn’t believe it! My doctor told me he wanted to put me on a medication named Lipitor to bring down my cholesterol levels. I refused. I told him I had turned wholly Vegan three days before the blood test and that I needed more time to bring down my weight and to get my body humming right by cleansing it of all the dead animals still morgued in my body.

Telltale Blood
My doctor told me I couldn’t lower my cholesterol enough to make a difference by exercise and diet alone. I told him I lowered my cholesterol from 250 to 220 via only diet and exercise. He told me that was fine, but that it wasn’t possible to get my blood cholesterol low enough to be at a safe level without help from medication.

I told him I believed it was possible according to all the research I’d done into the benefits of living a Vegan life. I informed him I’d only cut out 80% of my meat, dairy and eggs from my diet and that the remaining 20% was what was holding my cholesterol high.

He shook his head in disagreement and with that I knew my doctor had been informed by “traditional” medicine and their mantra for patients is “get a pill and go away.” I thought my new doctor had a bit more homeopath in him since he rides a bicycle to the office, wears sneakers and blue jeans instead of a white coat. He also brings his giant, yellow, dog to the office to roam and greet patients!

This doctor didn’t want me messing with my body chemistry. He wanted Lipitor to do all the work. While I understand 99% of his patients probably prefer that methodology, I wish he reserved room for the “radical” 1% like me who want to try to heal themselves by saying, “Hey! Go for it! If it doesn’t work, I’m here to help you with medication.” I couldn’t be angry or even disappointed with my doctor since I knew from my research that most medical schools require less than 1.5 hours of nutrition training. He had no idea how what you eat can, indeed, cleanse the body down if a Vegan diet is strictly followed.

I told my doctor I didn’t want to go on medication and that I needed three months to get my body in perfect shape for re-testing. He told me I could have four weeks. I said I needed 12 weeks to lose the weight and get my Vegan diet hitting on all cylinders since this was not only a diet change, but a total re-manipulation of my lifestyle. He gave me six weeks. I made an appointment for 10 weeks later.

Paging Dr. McDougall
One of the first books I read after John Robbins’ Diet for a New America was Dr. John A. McDougall’s 12 Day Program. McDougall teaches a bare bones method of losing weight and staying in good health: No oil, no meat, no dairy, no eggs. He loves starches. He’s not big on eating too much protein. Following McDougall’s diet (in addition to some minor modifications for my Vegan lifestyle) and using my simple exercise routine, I began to lose weight and feel better within three days of going on the modified McDougall program.

So… with McDougall in one hand and a push up on the other, I began a 10 week experiment to see if Veganism and simple (but regular) exercise could lower blood cholesterol levels.

I also gave up all caffeine, chocolate and tea (even herbal tea!) to ensure I was cleansing my body of any and all stimulants.

Exercise Routine
Here is the exercise routine I follow six days a week and before you think all the credit for the lowering of my blood cholesterol belongs to this routine, keep in mind I’d been on this routine for at least six months before I turned Vegan and I was only able to lower my cholesterol from 250 to 220 since I was still eating 20% of meat, eggs, dairy and oil at the time. I lost weight with this exercise routine, but my cholesterol did not drop as much as I’d hoped. Veganism, however, mixed with this very same routine, turned my blood around:

In the morning:

100 straight sit ups

50 right side sit ups

50 left side sit ups

35 push ups.

This routines takes less than seven minutes.

Around 11 am:

30 minutes of powerwalking

Later in the day:

100 straight sit ups

50 right side sit ups

50 left side sit ups

100 cross-legged ab crunches on my back

100 leg arches on my back

100 bum crunchers

100 arm and leg crossovers on my back

100 jumping jacks

50 toe touches

50 right leg lifts front

50 left leg lifts front

50 right leg lifts side

50 left leg lifts side

50 right leg lifts back

50 left leg lifts back

50 deep knee bends

100 arm and abdomen windmill side-twisters

35 push ups

This routine takes under 30 minutes.

In the evening after my final meal at 6 pm:

100 straight sit ups

50 right side sit ups

50 left side sit ups

35 push ups.

This routines takes less than seven minutes.

Every other day I work out with ten pound dumbbells:

100 biceps curls

25 straight-arm side lifts

25 backward triceps crunches

25 shoulder shrugs forward

25 shoulder shrugs backward

25 arched arm lifts

25 standing presses

25 standing triceps curls

This routine takes less than 7 minutes.

Walkies!
Following that exercise routine gives me power and energy I didn’t know I had. My body craves this sort of attentive workout every day and if I don’t hit the pavement for my 11 am walk, I get antsy and hyper and loud. My wife recognizes this behavior when I sometimes don’t and she’ll come up to me and say gently, “Dave, it’s time for your walk.”

I feel like I’ve been hit with a ton of TVP as I realize the body doesn’t lie: It’s time to go out and play! So I thank her for bringing me back to reality and I put on my coat and scamper outside to jump with the squirrels and join the other nuts like me out there in the freezing rain feeding their body the workout it deserves.

10 Weeks Later…
I’m pleased to report today that my cholesterol level is 178 and my blood pressure is an acceptable rate of 128/78. My doctor appears to have forgotten his prior thought that I would be unable to bring my blood cholesterol down to an acceptable level without medication.

He actually said I didn’t need medication since I “exercise every day and don’t eat animals.”

Bwa-ha-ho!

Perhaps I mined a new homeopathic vein within him after all! I sure hope so for the sake of the radical 1%. Every patient should be provided a choice when it comes to lowering cholesterol: “I’ll put you on Lipitor and fix you, or you can stop eating meat, dairy, eggs and oil and fix yourself.”

I should also mention my current weight is now 152 pounds and my body fat is 18%. I lost 20 pounds within 10 weeks of being Vegan: What a great side-benefit to a moral lifestyle change!

While these new body readings of mine are all within better ranges, my overall goal is to bring down my cholesterol level to 150 and to get my body fat down to 15%. I know I can do this by continuing to live a Vegan lifestyle and by adding more aerobic exercise to my daily routine.

Conclusion
Let me leave you with one ringing truth I discovered: It’s the last 20% that kills you. Sure, by knocking out my meat, dairy and eggs by 80% I lowered my cholesterol from 250 to 220, but that still wasn’t good enough to adequately lower my blood cholesterol levels. That last niggly 20% of hidden meat, dairy and eggs permeating every Standard American Diet (SAD) is what prevents many from achieving better health. 80% isn’t enough. Only 100% brings complete success.

Don’t let your doctor, your family, or your friends tell you that modifying your diet and adding some exercise to your sedentary life can’t change your body chemistry and outlook. I’m living evidence that a strong mind and body can be self-built and re-fueled to make you better and stronger than you ever were.

UPDATE:
Here is the history of my cholesterol readings. Remember you want the ratio between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol to be below 5.0 with a total reading under 200:

250 – June 11, 1997 [100% Meat, Dairy, Egg Eater]
220 – December 11, 1998 (158 bad, 39 good, 5.6 ratio) [80% Less Meat, Dairy & Eggs]
176 – March 1, 1999 (133 bad, 42 good, 4.6 ratio) [100% Vegan]
169 – January 24, 2000 (113 bad, 42 good, 4.0 ratio) [100% Vegan]

The numbers don’t lie: Veganism and exercise lowers blood cholesterol levels! I modified the exercise routine you read about here since I first wrote this story. From January 2000 to June 2000 I moved to a Pilates program mixed with limited Soloflex weightlifting and a bit of Bullworker work.

In July 2000 I moved to an Ashtanga Yoga workout regimen to discover lost spine flexibility and to regain clarity of breath. Ashtanga Yoga sweats you. Ashtanga Yoga builds new and enormous whole body strength misplaced over the years by other exercise programs. My current exercise routine consists of an hour Ashtanga Yoga workout six days a week at six in the morning. I continue to powerwalk 30 minutes six times a week as well.