How Exercise Can Lower Bad Cholesterol
Studies have shown that exercising at least three times a week can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.
If your cholesterol levels are not at ideal levels, exercise should be an important part of your health strategy.
A review of studies on the relationship between cholesterol levels and exercise, published in July 2017 in the journal BMC Lipids in Health and Disease, found a strong correlation between healthy cholesterol levels and exercise, in part due to weight loss. A review article by the National Lipid Association’s Expert Panel on Familial Hypercholesterolemia found that for every pound (about 2.2 pounds) a person lost, their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels dropped by about 0.8 mg/dL.
What types and amounts of exercise help lower LDL cholesterol?
Even light, regular aerobic exercise – the kind that speeds up your heart rate – can make a big difference in your blood lipid levels.
According to a meta-analysis of 11 studies published in November 2018 in the International Journal of Biomedical Research, after 8 to 24 weeks of low- to moderate-intensity exercise for 30 to 40 minutes a day, participants’ LDL cholesterol levels were lower in some studies and lower in others Low-density lipoprotein sub fractions (associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease) were lower in other studies low.
To improve cholesterol levels as well as blood pressure and overall risk of heart attack and stroke, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate exercise or 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous exercise per week. This means about 20 minutes of exercise per day, or 30 minutes five days a week. You can combine moderate and vigorous activity if it makes it easier for you to stick to your training program. And if you’re exercising a little too much, it’s perfectly fine to start slowly with 15 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day and work your way down.
Here are some examples of moderate-intensity exercise
- Brisk walking (at least 3 miles per hour)
- Bicycling (10 miles per hour, or slower)
- Playing tennis (doubles)
- Recreational or ballroom dancing
- Aerobic exercise in the water
Certain types of high-intensity exercise
- Walking, jogging, running
- Going for a spin
- Playing tennis (singles)
- Aerobic dance
- Cycling (10+ miles per hour)
- Walking upstream
- Jumping rope
- Aerobic dance
There are also many free instructor-led training sessions that you can take at home. If you’re new to exercise or returning after a long break, the Cleveland Clinic warns that you may need to lower your activity level a bit and then increase it again.
According to the AHA, the easiest way to determine if you’re working hard enough to reap the benefits of any fitness program you choose is to monitor your heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can also use a simple AHA chart. There are several ways to measure your heart rate on the go, including smart watches, fitness bands and smartphone apps. You can also track your pulse by placing two fingers on the inside of your wrist, on the side of your thumb, rather than on your thumb.
Press lightly on your arteries and count your pulses for 30 seconds. Multiply this number by 2 to determine your beats per minute, and according to the AHA, if you are just starting an exercise program, your goal should be at least 50% of your maximum. Over time, move up to 85% of your target maximum heart rate to get the most out of your workout.
Add resistance training for heart health
Resistance training, also known as strength training, uses machines, free weights, bands or your own body weight to develop your muscles, and the AHA recommends strength training at least twice a week for optimal heart health.
As you get stronger, aim for more reps, not weights, advises Lee Jordan, an American Council on Exercise certified health coach and behavior change specialist in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, because “it has been shown to have a great beneficial effect on blood lipids [cholesterol levels]. .
If you’re new to the sport, start by taking a class or working with a professional trainer to avoid injury and get the most out of it.
Even if you know the etiquette, don’t jump right off the couch onto the scaffold. If you’ve been sedentary, especially if you’re at risk for heart disease, get a doctor’s opinion before you start exercising.
Let’s get started right away.” However, people tend to wait for the best time to start an exercise program. There’s no perfect time. All you have to do is start.
Jordan believes the AHA’s frequency guidelines show good results for people who are trying to raise their cholesterol levels, but people who are just starting to exercise should aim for more sessions – five or six days a week. That’s what you need to do to establish a new habit. In the beginning, frequency is really important.
Here are a few good ways to keep you motivated after the first few weeks
- Make sure your goals are realistic. If you expect to lose a lot of weight through exercise or reach healthy cholesterol levels right away, you may get discouraged and stop.
- Make exercise a social activity. Having the support of family and friends will keep you from quitting. Many apps also allow you to get in touch with other people who are exercising.
- Be flexible. If you can’t make it to the gym, or your schedule doesn’t allow you to be home, work out in your living room.
With a consistent exercise program, you should see an improvement in your LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in about a month. But exercise alone won’t significantly lower your LDL cholesterol levels. Dietary changes are also needed. Experts specifically recommends avoiding saturated fats, which are found in marbled red meat and fatty dairy products.
Lowering LDL levels is beneficial, but research on whether it has an effect on overall longevity is inconclusive. For now, the best approach is to eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains – based on the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate or the Mediterranean diet.