Mark Ramprakash: I’d urge anyone to get their cholesterol checked

Cricket star Mark Ramprakash is supporting the Get Back in the Game campaign (Novartis Pharmaceuticals/PA)
Cricket star Mark Ramprakash is supporting the Get Back in the Game campaign (Novartis Pharmaceuticals/PA) Cricket star Mark Ramprakash is supporting the Get Back in the Game campaign (Novartis Pharmaceuticals/PA)

As a former international cricketer, Mark Ramprakash has always had to look after his health and wellbeing.

But it was only when his father had a stroke that the former England batsman truly realised that he had to take care of his health to safeguard his future, as well as his cricketing career.

“My father had a stroke, and the whole of his left side was affected – speech, walking and stuff like that,” says Ramprakash, who retired from playing cricket in 2012. “Happily he did recover, but it was a massive scare. A lot of people aren’t lucky enough to come back from that. So that was a really worrying time for me and the rest of the family.”

Ramprakash’s dad, Deo, an Indian who’s originally from Guyana, is a diabetic with high cholesterol – two conditions which are more common in South Asians. And it’s that genetic legacy which has prompted Ramprakash, 53, to support the Get Back in the Game campaign to encourage more people to get their cholesterol tested, as high LDL (bad) cholesterol is a major cause of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

“My dad’s got high cholesterol, and he’s diabetic – with his ethnicity, he’s a prime candidate,” says Ramprakash. “And that’s why I very much have a personal investment in this campaign.”

Ramprakash has joined his former England cricket teammate Phil Tufnell to make a documentary for the campaign, in which Ramprakash chats to two members of the Middlesex seniors cricket team about the heart attacks they’ve experienced.

“They both had high cholesterol,” he says, “and their stories were really quite scary, because both were quite active, and what really came through to me was that it’s a silent killer that you don’t really know about, or weren’t feeling unwell.

“It sort of crept up on them – you can perhaps look and feel reasonably well, but high cholesterol is deadly because there’s not necessarily major symptoms from it. It could have gone either way for those guys, so that was an eye-opener. Some people don’t come back from a stroke or heart attack.”

The Novartis campaign, in collaboration with the cholesterol charity Heart UK, is urging people to get their cholesterol tested and managed, particularly if they’ve already experienced a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke, which makes them much more likely to have another, especially in the year or so afterwards.

“The campaign is just raising awareness for people to be tested if they’re in a particular age bracket or a particular ethnicity, to monitor it, and get the measurements,” explains Ramprakash, who is now the batting coach at Middlesex.

Ramprakash hasn’t had any cardiovascular problems himself, and a cholesterol test last year revealed his levels were normal. “So far, so good,” he says.

“But I would urge anyone to go and get tested – you can do that at your local pharmacy. And once you get that measurement, you’re really in a much better place to think what you really need to do, and how you’re going to target lowering your cholesterol if you need to.”

Studies suggest heavy drinking may increase bad cholesterol, and Heart UK says a healthy diet can help lower cholesterol. Ramprakash doesn’t drink, pointing out: “I don’t drink alcohol, I never have,” and tries to eat healthily, although he admits: “I have a very sweet tooth – it’s a really bad habit, so I have to really try and be careful with sugar. And my dad is a diabetic, so that obviously can run in the family. That’s really where I have to keep a very close eye on things.

“I think I was quite lucky in that my family had pretty good habits early in my life, and I’ve always been very active from a young age. And the fact I’ve never got into the whole alcohol situation has probably saved me a few headaches along the way!”

He says when he became a professional sportsperson at 17, diet and nutrition was, of course, important, and strength and conditioning experts and nutritionists worked with the national team, which he joined at the age of 21. “So you just continue to learn, and that’s a healthy mindset in terms of life in general. Certainly nutrition and the way to look after your body as you get older, that’s really important,” he stresses, pointing out his diet isn’t perfect but he tries to be careful with it.

“I do have the odd takeaway, and I’ve got a sweet tooth which I find it hard to keep a handle on, but I don’t think it’s necessarily realistic for people to completely cut everything out – you want the good to far outweigh the treats.”

Although Ramprakash used to enjoy “short, sharp runs” to spike his heart rate, a knee injury means the amount of aerobic activity he does has been reduced. But he still does weights at the gym, saying: “That hopefully elevates the heart rate and keeps me feeling healthy and strong.”

He tries to play golf once a week, and says that as well as his active job as the Middlesex batting coach, which “keeps my foot in the door with the professional game”, he also teaches batting at Harrow School.

Obviously his activity levels are a long way off what they were when he was a pro cricketer – so does he miss being a professional sportsman?“Umm, yes and no,” he muses. “Yes, to be young again, and have the body of a 25-year-old, to run and be athletic and have that energy and to compete in big games – that’s a wonderful thing to experience. I was very, very lucky.

“But I think as I get older, I’ve lost that hunger to do the training. I don’t have the motivation to go and practice cricket now, so I’ve turned my attention to other things. I’ve developed a love of golf now – I didn’t play when I was a cricketer, but I really enjoy that. It gets me out and about in some lovely places, and it’s a social game as well.

“So that’s where I’m at – I suppose golf’s kind of taken over from cricket, really.”

Mark Ramprakash is supporting the Get Back in the Game campaign to encourage more people to get their cholesterol checked.