Finding out that your cholesterol level is too high can be worrying, but there are a number of methods you can use to help return it to a normal level. One of the most effective forms is through exercise, and although alone it won't ensure your cholesterol stays low (our genes, age, gender, weight and diet all play a role) it can have a really positive impact.
Exercising on a regular basis helps to increase our "good" HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which moves fatty deposits away from the arteries and back to the liver to be broken down.
How does exercise lower cholesterol?
Studies suggest there are a number of reasons why exercise can help with cholesterol. Firstly, enzymes released during exercise help to move LDL cholesterol away from blood and blood-vessels and back to the liver to be converted into bile. The bile is then either used as part of the digestive process or excreted - either way, the more we exercise, the more LDL is taken out of the system (up to a point).
Exercise also increases the size of protein particles which carry cholesterol in the blood. The larger these particles are, the less of a risk they become as the smaller particles can find themselves in the lining of the heart and blood vessels. If this happens, they can be difficult to remove, which can cause blockages.
How much exercise is needed to help lower cholesterol?
While guidelines recommend that at least 150 minutes of exercise a week is ideal for healthy cholesterol, there is no consensus as to how much is required to help lower it.
There is also debate surrounding how much of an impact exercise has on cholesterol. Most research suggests the people with most to gain are those who had the worst diets, especially if they carried out little or no regular exercise. These groups could see their LDL reduced by as much as 15%, while their HDL could increase by 20%.
Some useful guidelines on healthy exercise
- Find an activity you can keep going for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, such as cycling, swimming or jogging. You could also try using exercise machines, but stick to a low intensity to start with.
- While the intensity of your workout should be moderate, you need to work out on a regular basis to have an impact. This means you should at least be looking to cover the recommended 150 minutes a week worth of exercise. You should remember that you can break this down into small chunks - eg, three 10-minute walks a day.
- Finding an activity you enjoy will help you to stick with it, so whether that's playing games in the garden with your children, walking the dog or heading out on the bike, make sure you have fun. Inviting friends and family along can help ensure you stay motivated, as well as helping to keep everybody healthy.
Remember: you should always talk to your GP or specialist if you have any medical conditions, injuries or disabilities that either affect your ability to exercise or which may be worsened by exercise.