Lowering Your High Cholesterol: 6 Exercises That Pay Off
When you’re diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor may mention exercise. Along with improving your diet, exercise is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your numbers naturally.
Your first thought may be, “I hate running.” Or maybe you love to run, but have recently been sidelined by an injury. Or maybe you don’t mind jogging but hate the treadmill.
Running isn’t the only way to get healthy. There’s no doubt that it’s an effective form of aerobic exercise, but there are many other good options that can help offset the negative health effects of high cholesterol.
Why is exercise effective in lowering cholesterol?
Cholesterol is one of the fatty substances that circulate in our blood. If we have too much cholesterol, it clings to the inner walls of our arteries, narrowing them and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
But it’s not just the amount of cholesterol in our blood that affects our risk. Other factors also play a role. One of them is the type of protein that carries cholesterol in the body. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is more likely to cause problems. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol protects the body from cholesterol buildup.
Exercise helps raise HDL cholesterol levels. Researchers reported on this in Lipids in Health and Disease. Physically active women had significantly higher HDL cholesterol levels than sedentary women. Another study, published in Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, had similar results. In men with abdominal fat, regular resistance exercise increased good HDL cholesterol levels.
Exercise can also change the nature of our cholesterol. in 2002, researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that exercise improved the number and size of particles that carry cholesterol in the body. Those who exercised more had larger, “fluffy” particles that were less likely to clog their arteries.
Even if you’re overweight, exercise can help lower cholesterol levels. In the Journal of Obesity, researchers report that walking, jogging and biking while following a cholesterol-lowering diet can improve total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in overweight and obese adults.
The best exercises for lowering cholesterol
Some studies suggest that the “amount” of exercise you do may be more important than the type of exercise you do. This means it’s worth incorporating more activity into your day in any way you can. Take a walk during your lunch break, take the stairs, go upstairs to answer the phone, or keep a jump rope at your desk.
Also, try to include at least 30 minutes of structured exercise in your day. Any exercise is better than none, but studies have shown that the following six types of exercise are effective in lowering cholesterol levels
Running or jogging
If your joints are in good shape and you enjoy jogging, you’re in luck because it’s a good exercise for lowering cholesterol and controlling your weight. But don’t think you have to jog. A few miles of easy jogging may lower your cholesterol better than a quick sprint around the block.
In a 2013 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers reported that long-distance runners showed significantly better improvements in HDL cholesterol levels than sprinters (less than 10 miles per week). They also found better improvements in their blood pressure.
Whether walking is as good as running for cardiovascular health has long been debated. Especially as we age, walking tends to provide a better workout in terms of protecting joint health.
Researchers reported the good news on this topic in 2013 in the journal Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. They compared tens of thousands of runners with an equal number of walkers. The results showed that it was the amount of exercise, not the type, that mattered.
People who exercised at the same energy level, whether they walked or ran, felt similar benefits. These benefits included a reduced risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Walking takes longer to burn calories than running. However, if you burn 300 calories in both directions, you are burning about the same amount of energy. The benefits are likely to be similar. Paul Williams, lead author of the above study, says that walking 4.3 miles at a brisk pace requires about the same amount of energy as running 3 miles.
Biking to work or just for fun
Cycling requires about the same amount of energy as jogging, but has a milder impact on the joints. For many people, this is an important thing to do as they get older. The hip and knee joints are prone to arthritis and we all need to be careful. If you start to feel pain in these joints, it may be better to choose cycling over running.
If you can ride your bike to work, try it. Research has shown some positive benefits. Scientists report in the Journal of the American Heart Association that people who bike to work are less likely to develop high cholesterol than those who don’t.
A second study, published in the journal Circulation, suggests that cycling can reduce the risk of heart disease. A group of adults between the ages of 50 and 65 who cycled regularly had 11 to 18 fewer heart attacks over 20 years than those who did not.
Take a few laps in the pool
Swimming is probably the healthiest aerobic exercise you can do. In a 2010 study, researchers compared swimming and walking in women between the ages of 50 and 70. They found that swimming improved body weight, body fat distribution and LDL cholesterol levels better than walking.
Researchers also studied the beneficial effects of swimming on men in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education. They found that swimmers were 53%, 50% and 49% more likely to die from any cause compared to sedentary men, walkers or runners, respectively.
So far, we have mainly discussed aerobic exercise. This is the type of exercise most often recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, some studies have shown that resistance training is also extremely beneficial for people with high cholesterol. A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis showed that people who participated in resistance training were able to clear LDL from their blood faster than those who did not.
Resistance training can also help protect cardiovascular health. In the BMC Public HealthTrusted Source, scientists report that the combination of resistance and aerobic exercise helped people lose more weight and fat than either type of exercise alone. The combination also improved cardiovascular health.
Don’t think you’re too old to try weight lifting. It can be helpful for people of all ages. The Journal of Gerontology published a study of women between the ages of 70 and 87. Those who participated in a resistance training program for about 11 weeks had significantly lower LDL and total cholesterol levels than those who did not.
After all this talk about cardio and weight lifting, it may seem odd that yoga appears on the list. After all, yoga is mostly about stretching, right?
However, studies have shown that yoga can reduce the risk of heart disease. In some cases, it can directly affect cholesterol levels.
The three-month yoga program lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, researchers report in the Indian heart journal Trusted Source. It also improved HDL cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Participants practiced for about one hour a day.
In a large review of studies published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, people who practiced yoga regularly showed significant improvements in LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and blood pressure compared to those who did not exercise.