The relationship between cholesterol and exercise is an interesting one. Most researchers are still unsure how cholesterol is lowered by physical activity, but they are beginning to understand a little more.
We do know that exercise helps people to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy body weight, which can help reduce the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in our bloodstream. This has long been associated with heart disease.
The confusion around exercise’s impact has come because many pieces of cholesterol research combined exercise and dietary changes, which made it difficult to know exactly what brought about any reduction. In recent times we have seen more research focusing on exercise exclusively, which has provided a clearer picture.
Previously, there was a lot of debate surrounding how much exercise was needed to see a reduction of cholesterol. Most public health organisations around the world recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
However, more recent research has suggested that more intensive exercise is more efficient as it can also help to lift the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, as well as lower LDL cholesterol. This means intensive exercise offers a double boost in helping manage cholesterol.
How much can exercise help?
In most cases, this depends on the circumstances of the individual. People who had a poor diet and didn’t take part in much exercise were more likely to see bigger results than those who had a healthier lifestyle. On the more unhealthy people, they can see LDL reduced by 10% to 15%, and HDL increased by around a fifth.
Sounds good - how do I get started?
If you don’t exercise much at the moment, you should make sure you start slowly - these guidelines should help you stay healthy:
• Try to find a form of exercise you can do for 10-20 minutes at a time at least to a moderate level of intensity. This could be walking, jogging, swimming, cycling or many more activities
• For best results, be aware that while the activity may be moderate, exercising for longer periods of time (your exercise volume) is helpful
• Choose something you enjoy as this will help keep you motivated. This could be anything from taking up a sport to walking the dog. Exercising with friends and family may help keep you motivated too
• If you can, take up several activities. This can help you exercise different muscles in your body, while the variety is also useful for motivation.
It is important to recognise that exercise alone won’t guarantee your cholesterol level will reduce. There are many factors which can influence it, including your weight, diet and even your smoking status.
However, even if the changes to your cholesterol through exercise are quite small, you’ll feel many other benefits by getting out and about. These include more energy and a better mood, while you can also reduce your risk of many illnesses and diseases, such as diabetes (type 1 and type 2), stroke and some cancers.