Regular exercise can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of adverse health effects. Good options for physical activity include brisk walking, running and resistance training.
Firstly, it is advisable to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol helps the body build cells, make vitamins and hormones, and digest certain fatty foods. However, high LDL cholesterol can be dangerous and put you at risk for several health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Physical exercise lowers cholesterol. Here are the best forms of physical activity to try to better manage your cholesterol.
Types of Cholesterol
It should be noted that there are two main types of cholesterol in a person’s body: LDL cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. When people talk about lowering their cholesterol, they are referring to LDL cholesterol.
Can exercise lower cholesterol?
Yes, studies show that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is enough to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Exercise can also help raise the good HDL cholesterol. A 2013 study found that walking for 1 hour a day, 5 days a week for 24 weeks, increased HDL cholesterol levels in the body.
A 2015 study supported this finding, showing that HDL cholesterol levels in the body increased after regular high-intensity strength training three times a week for 10 weeks.
Regular exercise can also help in a number of other ways, including:
– help a person achieve or maintain a moderate body weight
– improve mental health
– strengthen muscles and bones
– increase energy levels and reduce fatigue
A person can also lower the LDL cholesterol level in their body in other ways. These include in particular:
– have a healthy diet
– reduce the level of saturated fat and trans fat in the diet
– reduce alcohol consumption
– maintain a moderate body weight
– stop smoking
– reduce stress
– get enough sleep
Types of exercise and their effects on cholesterol
Regular exercise is a good way to be fit and healthy and to reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the body.
Here are some of the forms of exercise that can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Regular brisk walks have many health benefits. One study found that people who walked for an hour a day, five days a week, saw a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels in their bodies. Walking regularly and at a brisk pace is a good way to stay fit and healthy, and this activity is often easier to manage and do than running. A 2013 study compared walking to running. She said that as long as the amount of energy a person uses is the same, moderate walking and vigorous running reduce the risk of a variety of heart problems by the same amount.
Regular running also has many health benefits. It can help people get fit, lose weight and improve their mental health. A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine linked running, regardless of frequency, to a 27% reduction in the risk of death from all causes. Running can also help lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in a person’s blood.
Cycling is another effective way to lower LDL cholesterol levels. A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that people who cycled to work were less likely to have high cholesterol than those who did not. The authors also noted that cycling to work reduced the risk of several cardiovascular health problems.
Resistance training increases muscle strength by working the muscles against some form of resistance. Resistance training can also be called “strength training”. Resistance training can include using weights, such as dumbbells or kettlebells, weight machines found in gyms, or body weight.
Common resistance training exercises include:
– the pumps
– weight lifting
A 2014 review found that premenopausal people who did supervised strength training sessions saw the amount of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in their bodies drop over 14 weeks. Participants engaged in resistance training three times a week, with each session lasting 40 to 50 minutes.
Organized sports and other activities
Other sports and activities can also be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels and improving overall health.
The most important factors to consider are how much energy the body uses to participate in the sport or activity and how often the person engages in it.
The following sports and activities may be helpful:
– team sports, such as basketball, football
– high intensity interval training (HIIT)
How much exercise should you do?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that adults should get a certain amount of exercise each week to stay healthy. However, she points out that one in four adults worldwide does not meet the globally recommended levels of physical activity.
WHO recommends that adults aim for one of the following goals:
– at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week
– at least 75-150 minutes of higher intensity aerobic physical activity per week
– a corresponding combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity during the week.
Tracking heart rate during exercise can help a person reach their fitness or weight loss goals. The heart rate is a good indicator of how much a person is doing when exercising. You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 to get a value in beats per minute (bpm). For example, a 30-year-old would subtract 30 from 220, which would give them a maximum heart rate of about 190 bpm.
Optimal cholesterol level
The desirable total cholesterol level is below 200 mg/dl. Specifically, the desired level of LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dl, and the optimal level of HDL cholesterol is greater than or equal to 60 mg/dl. When a person has a blood lipid test to measure these levels, their doctor can help them understand what the results mean for their health.
If a person’s cholesterol level is not in the healthy range, their doctor can help them develop a personalized treatment plan. This plan may include exercise recommendations and dietary changes. In some cases, the doctor may also suggest other treatments.
You can fight high cholesterol with regular exercise. Walking, running, cycling and swimming are forms of exercise that help lower total cholesterol and LDL levels. Often, these exercises can also help raise HDL cholesterol levels.
A person can also lower their LDL cholesterol level by making lifestyle changes, such as improving their diet and quitting smoking.
Almenning, I., et al. (2015). Effects of high-intensity interval training and strength training on metabolic, cardiovascular and hormonal outcomes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A pilot study.
Di Raimondo, D., et al. (2013). Metabolic and anti-inflammatory effects of a home-based aerobic physical exercise program [Abstract].
Mann, S., et al. (2014). Differential effects of aerobic exercise, resistance exercise and combined exercise modalities on cholesterol and the lipid profile: Review, synthesis and recommendations.
Williams, PT (1997). Relationship between distance running per week and risk factors for coronary heart disease in 8283 male runners, National Runners’ Health Study.