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Does exercise lower cholesterol?
March 29, 2021

Regular exercise can lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of adverse health outcomes. Good physical activity options include brisk walking, running, and resistance training.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advise people to aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol helps the body build cells, make vitamins and hormones, and digestTrusted Source some fatty foods. However, high levels of LDL cholesterol can be dangerous and put a person at riskTrusted Source of several health issues, including heart attack and stroke.

In this article, we look at whether exercise lowers cholesterol. We also explain which types of physical activity to try and suggest other ways in which a person can manage their cholesterol.

Types of cholesterol

It is worth noting that there are two main types of cholesterol in a person’s body: LDL cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

When people talk about lowering their cholesterol levels, they are referring to LDL cholesterol. About 38%Trusted Source of adults in the United States have high LDL cholesterol.

Can exercise lower cholesterol?

According to the AHA, 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week is enough to lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure.

Exercise can also help raise HDL cholesterol. A 2013 studyTrusted Source showed that walking for 1 hour a day on 5 days of the week for 24 weeks increased the levels of HDL cholesterol in the body.

A 2015 studyTrusted Source supported this finding, showing that the levels of HDL cholesterol in the body increased after regular high intensity strength training three times per week for 10 weeks.

Regular exercise can also help in various other ways, including:

  • helping a person reach or maintain a moderate body weight
  • improving mental health
  • building muscle and bone strength
  • boosting energy levels and reducing fatigue

A person can lower the levels of LDL cholesterol in their body in other ways, too. These includeTrusted Source:

Types of exercise and their effects on cholesterol

Regular exercise is a good way to get fit and healthy and reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in the body.

Below, we list some of the forms of exercises that can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

Walking

Regular brisk walks offer many health benefits. In one studyTrusted Source, people who walked for 1 hour a day on 5 days of the week saw a reduction in the amount of LDL cholesterol in their body.

Walking regularly and at a brisk pace is a good way to keep fit and healthy, and this activity is often easier to manage and carry out than running.

A 2013 review compared walking with running. It stated that as long as the amount of energy a person expended was the same, both moderate walking and vigorous running reduced the risk of a number of heart-related issues by the same amount.

Running

Regular running also offers plenty of health benefits. It can help people get fit, lose weight, and improve their mental health.

A 2019 review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine linked any amount of running to a 27% lower risk of all causes of death.

Running can also help reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol in a person’s blood.

The above review shows that any amount of running is good for a person’s health. However, a much older studyTrusted Source showed that people who ran longer distances had more significant reductions in the levels of LDL cholesterol in their blood.

Cycling

Cycling is another effective way of lowering LDL cholesterol levels.

A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that people who cycled to work were less likely to have high cholesterol than individuals who did not.

The authors also noted that cycling to work led to a lower risk of several cardiovascular health issues.

Resistance training

Resistance training increases muscle strength by making the muscles work against a form of resistance. People may also refer to resistance training as weight training.

Resistance training can include the use of weights, such as dumbbells or kettlebells, weight machines that a person would find in a gym, or the person’s own body weight.

Common resistance training exercises include:

  • pushups
  • stomach crunches
  • weightlifting, such as chest presses, dead lifts, or curls
  • squats

A 2014 reviewTrusted Source found that premenopausal individuals who underwent supervised resistance training sessions saw the amounts of total and LDL cholesterol in their body reduce over 14 weeks.

The participants took part in the resistance training three times a week, with each session lasting 40–50 minutes.

Organized sports and other activities

Other sports and activities can also be beneficial for lowering cholesterol and improving general health.

The main factors to consider are how much energy the body uses up doing the sport or activity and how often a person engages in it.

The following sports and activities can help:

How much exercise to do

The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source state that adults should undertake a certain amount of exercise each week to stay healthy. However, they point out that 1 in 4 adults around the world do not meet the global recommended levels of physical activity.

The WHO recommend that adults aim for one of the following:

  • at least 150–300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week
  • at least 75–150 minutes of more vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity each week
  • an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity throughout the week

Tracking heart rate

Tracking the heart rate during exercise can help a person reach their fitness or weight loss goals. Heart rate is a good indicator of how much effort a person is putting in when exercising.

The AHA recommend that people reach 50–85% of their maximum heart rate when exercising.

They explain that a person can calculate their maximum heart rate by subtracting their age from 220 to give them a value in beats per minute (bpm).

For example, a 30-year-old would subtract 30 from 220, giving them a maximum heart rate of about 190 bpm.

Optimum cholesterol levels

Scientists measure cholesterol in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, the desirable level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dl.

More specifically, the desired level of LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dl, and the optimum level of HDL cholesterol is greater than or equal to 60 mg/dl.

When a person gets a blood lipid test to measure these levels, their doctor can help them understand what the results mean for their health.

If a person’s cholesterol levels are not within the healthy ranges, their doctor can help them develop a personalized treatment plan. This plan may include recommended exercise and dietary changes. In some cases, a doctor may also suggest other treatments.

Summary

A person can combat high cholesterol by exercising regularly. Forms of exercise that help a person lower their total and LDL cholesterol levels include walking, running, cycling, and swimming. Often, these exercises can also help raise the levels of a person’s HDL cholesterol.

A person may also lower their levels of LDL cholesterol by making certain lifestyle changes, such as improving their diet and quitting smoking.

 

 

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