Exercise and Lowering Cholesterol

Lowering bad cholesterol is one of exercise's many benefits

Many types of exercise can lower cholesterol. Webphotographeer - istockphoto

Sometimes it may seem like it takes all of your energy just to drag yourself out of bed for your morning jog or your evening workout at the gym. But exercise has many health benefits.

Not only can it keep your weight down, build up your muscles, and reduce your risk of developing certain medical conditions, exercising regularly also has beneficial effects on the heart, including your cholesterol levels.

 

Lowering Cholesterol With Diet and Exercise

Exactly how exercise works in improving your cholesterol levels is still not totally clear. Although there have been studies examining the effects of exercise on cholesterol, these studies have also been coupled with other cholesterol-lowering lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet or losing weight.

Recent studies examining the effect of exercise alone reveal a few ways that exercise may help improve your cholesterol levels:

  • Lipoprotein particle size. Some studies have shown that exercise can change your LDL (aka bad cholesterol). Smaller lipoproteins, such as small, dense LDL, have been associated with contributing to cardiovascular disease, but having larger LDL particles do not carry this same risk. Studies have shown that moderate exercise can increase the size of your LDL particles, which can help to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In one study, a 12-week endurance exercise program reduced small, dense LDL by up to 17 percent.
  • Reverse cholesterol transport. A few studies in mice have suggested that exercise can enhance the transport of cholesterol from the bloodstream to the liver, where it will eventually be filtered out of the body.
  • Absorption. A few studies have shown that eight to 12 weeks of endurance exercise may slightly reduce the absorption of cholesterol from the small intestine into the bloodstream. The amount of cholesterol made by the liver does not appear to be affected by exercise. 

    Moderate Exercise and LDL 

    Although researchers are still trying to determine exactly how exercise affects your cholesterol, the bottom line is clear: moderate exercise appears to have favorable effects on your cholesterol levels:

    • Moderate exercise reduced LDL cholesterol by up to 10 percent in some studies. There are a few studies that suggest that exercise may have a slightly positive or neutral effect on LDL.
    • Exercising regularly can increase your HDL cholesterol by between 3 and 6 percent.

    Although this may not seem like much, combining exercise with other lifestyle changes can help keep your cholesterol levels, as well as the rest of your body, healthy.

    How Much Exercise Do You Need?

    The amount and type of moderate exercise varied widely in these studies. The American Heart Association has the following recommendations for including exercise in your healthy lifestyle:

    • For your overall heart health, you should fit in 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise daily for at least 5 days a week.
    • For specifically lowering lipids, you should be including at least 40 minutes’ worth of moderate to vigorous exercise at least three to four times a week.

    If you can’t fit a 30- or 40-minute exercise regimen into your busy day, don't worry.

    You can divide your time up into 10- or 15-minute intervals to achieve the total recommended amount of exercise daily and get the same health benefits.

    Sources:

    Mann, S. et al "Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile." Sports Medicine Journal, Oct. 2013

    Meissner M, Havinga R, Boverhof R, et al. "Exercise enhances whole-body cholesterol turnover in mice." Med Sci in Sports Exercise 2010.

    Wilund KR, Feeney LA, Tomayko EJ, et al. "Effects of endurance exercise training on markers of cholesterol absorption and synthesis." Physiological Research 2009.

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