Reducing Cholesterol with Exercise
One of the leading risks for high cholesterol is being overweight. The good news is that regular physical activity will help with weight loss and lowering cholesterol. Exercise can actually increase your HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering your LDL (bad) cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise, 5 times a week. You can also divide your exercise time into segments of 10-15 minutes per day.
A 2001 study involving patients with high cholesterol showed improvements in HDL and LDL cholesterol levels after just 12 weeks of following an exercise program. On average, subjects experienced a 4.6% increase in HDL, a 5.0% decrease in LDL and a 3.7% decrease in triglycerides.
Even moderate activity, if done daily, can make a difference. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine compared the amount and intensity of exercise and their effects on cholesterol levels. The highest amount of weekly exercise had the most effect. In other words, improvement was related to the amount of activity and not to the intensity of exercise.
In the same study, participants lost minimal weight, but their cholesterol levels decreased. This shows that heart-healthy changes can occur inside your body before any benefits are seen on the outside.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Underlying health conditions, such as uncontrolled blood pressure, can make certain types of exercise unsafe for you. This is also true if you are on medications that affect your heart rate.
If you are new to exercise or haven't been active in awhile, start slowly and increase your workout time and intensity as you get stronger. Even just adding minimal physical activity every day can help you begin to lose weight and reduce cholesterol.
Consider the following exercises:
- Take a daily walk during your lunch hour
- Ride your bike to work
- Swim laps in a pool
- Play a favorite sport
To stay motivated, find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group. And remember, any activity is helpful. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing a few sit-ups while watching television can make a difference.
Listen to your body. Push yourself hard enough to get a good workout, but not too hard. The "Talk Test" is a good indication of proper intensity. If you can answer a question, but not comfortably carry on a conversation at the height of your workout, you're exercising at a good intensity level.
It's never too late to start an active lifestyle. No matter how old you are, how unfit you feel, or how long you've been inactive, research shows that starting a more active lifestyle now-through consistent, moderately intense activity-can make you healthier and improve your quality of life. Increasing your overall activity, even in ways you wouldn't think of as exercise, also produces big benefits.