Five years ago, Nik Mercer was working in the music industry, and his “nighttime-oriented lifestyle” wasn’t helping his health.
“I probably didn’t get a single check-up through all of my 20s,” he says.
When Mercer finally went to a doctor before turning 30, he learned that his total cholesterol was just shy of the red zone (>7.8mmol/litre) – statin territory. Looking for an alternative to starting meds so young, he and his doctor decided he should make changes in other areas.
Here’s how Mercer used physician-approved strategies to push his total cholesterol down to normal in about 12 months — losing more than 20 kilograms in the process – and keep it there.
Anatomy of success, part 1
Docs told him: Be More Active
Cholesterol is a blood fat, and exercise can help muscles use these fats for energy (so they don’t settle in the arteries). Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, says cardiologist Robert Nierzwicki, of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage and Delnor Hospitals.
Better: raise the intensity or duration of your sessions.
Mercer’s move: Row, row, row
Mercer knew he’d feel self-conscious at a gym. But while watching Frank Underwood rowing away the stress of the day on House of Cards, he thought, I could be a rowing guy.
Its private, meditative appeal led him to invest in a Concept2 rower. He uses it almost daily for 30-45 minutes.
Anatomy of success, part 2
Docs told him: Eat better
Load up on whole foods rather than processed ones and you’ll naturally consume more fibre. And for reducing cholesterol, fibre has superpowers (aim for 38 grams a day).
If all this healthy eating helps you lose weight, great.
Shedding 5-10 per cent of your bodyweight can significantly improve your cholesterol.
Mercer’s move: Say hi to the kitchen
Mercer cut back on eating out and made more stir-fries at home. “Lots of veggies, organised preparation, then high heat in the wok for a bit – and you’re done!” All that produce adds fibre, and Mercer sneaks in even more: “I’ll eat the stem or core of most anything.”
Anatomy of success, part3
Docs told him: Limit alcohol intake
Light drinking isn’t necessarily bad for cholesterol – it has been associated with a potential increase in the “good” (HDL) kind. But down more than two drinks a day, week in and week out, and those kJs can lead to weight gain, which can contribute to higher “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
Mercer’s move: Redefine partying
After a few months of other changes, Mercer stopped drinking. “I got a totally different experience, socially and emotionally, out of the party and music space,” he says. He also started sleeping better and more regularly, which gave him more energy to commit to his other healthy habits.