FRIDAY, Sept. 12, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- If Murray Mintz has a meeting that's just a few miles away, he's as likely to take his bike as his car. If he needs to go to the post office or the drugstore, the bike usually wins out, too.
It's all part of the lifestyle changes that have helped Mintz, a 58-year-old Web site designer in California, to lower his cholesterol from the danger zone of about 240 milligrams per deciliter to an extremely healthy 130. In the process, it should reverse dangerously clogged arteries.
He's also on a cholesterol-lowering drug. But paying attention to exercise and diet are crucial, and he says it's something he plans to do forever.
About 102 million Americans have total blood cholesterol levels above the 200 milligrams/deciliter threshold that is considered desirable. And 41.3 million of those people have levels of 240 or higher, which is termed high risk, increasing the chances they will have heart disease.
Mintz's story began about 10 years ago, when he was working as a Hollywood screenwriter and director and suffered chest pains. "I went to a cardiologist who did an angiogram and told me I had a blocked artery," he recalls.
His doctor believed they could reverse it with diet and exercise, which sounded better than, say, bypass surgery to Mintz. "Being a coward, I said yes," he remembers.
Eight months later, after Mintz had followed a low-fat diet with plenty of oat bran and niacin and stuck with an exercise plan, he returned to the cardiologist. He received another angiogram and found things had indeed reversed.
After a few years, Mintz confesses, he got a little lax with the diet and exercise plan. About three years ago, more chest pains occurred, and a different cardiologist began talking about bypass surgery. Mintz talked him into another idea -- to reverse the damage again.
And he has succeeded. "I've had a couple stress tests," he says, "and the results have been good. I have no chest pain."
Besides the healthy diet, he exercises, riding a bike three or four miles every other day and around the neighborhood on shorter outings the other days. He gets in a few extra miles running errands and pedaling to nearby meetings.
To lower the cholesterol further, he also relies on the medication.
The combination of lifestyle changes and medication is best for some, experts say, if the lifestyle changes alone don't lower cholesterol enough.
With the healthful diet also came a weight loss of about 35 pounds, Mintz says.
Even though his latest cholesterol reading of 130 is far below the borderline zone, Mintz plans to stick with the healthier lifestyle. He's eased up a bit on diet, switching from being a total vegetarian to eating two or three meals a week with meat.
"Exercise has become second nature. I really do fit it into my life," he says. "Twenty minutes ago, I had to go to the post office, and I jumped on my bike and did it."
For questions and answers about cholesterol, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.