High LDL (bad cholesterol) level is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, regular exercise is a great place to start to lower your LDL. But it doesn’t have to be stopped there. You need to combine it with a healthy diet in conjunction with lifestyle choices to get the best results. It may even help you avoid taking medication to lower your LDL.
Which Exercise Is Best For LDL Cholesterol?
Read on to learn (i) How Does Exercise Reduce LDL? (ii) Which Exercise Is Best For LDL Cholesterol? (iii) How Much Exercise Do You Need A Day To Lower LDL (Bad Cholesterol)?
The Exercise-Cholesterol Link – How Does Exercise Reduce LDL?
You might have heard that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your LDL (bad cholesterol). But how does exercise improve cholesterol levels?
Though exercise lowers LDL, doctors weren’t sure what exactly is the connection between exercise & cholesterol until recently. Now they are beginning to have a clearer idea.
One reason that exercise can help lower LDL is by helping us lose — or maintain — weight. Being overweight is a significant risk for increasing the amount of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) in your blood, the type of lipoprotein linked to heart disease.
The confusion about the impact of exercise on cholesterol arises because most early cholesterol studies involved both exercise and dietary changes, making it difficult to determine which of these factors was actually making the difference. But recent studies have focused more on exercise alone to carefully examine its effect, making it possible to evaluate the relationship between exercise and cholesterol.
Researchers now believe there are many mechanisms involved. First, exercise activates enzymes that help carry LDL from your blood (and blood-vessel walls) to your liver. The liver then converts cholesterol into bile (for digestion) or excretes it. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body will eliminate.
Second, exercise enhances the size of the protein particles that transport cholesterol through the blood. (The combination of cholesterol & protein particles is known as “lipoprotein,” and LDL is linked to heart disease.). Some of those particles are big and fluffy, and some are small and dense. The small, dense particles can squeeze into the linings of the blood vessels & heart (because of their smaller size) and pile up there. That explains why the small particles are more dangerous than the big ones. The researchers have found that exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry both bad and good lipoproteins.
As per the American Heart Association, lack of exercise and being overweight (among other factors) go hand-in-hand, leading to high LDL.
Exercise and Cholesterol: Which Exercise Is Best For LDL Cholesterol?
Exercise is excellent for your overall health – from head to toe. It’s an effective way to reduce your LDL (bad cholesterol) cholesterol, boost HDL (good cholesterol), and make your heart stronger.
What Exercise Is Best To Reduce Cholesterol?
Is Aerobic Exercise or Strength-Training More Effective For Improving Cholesterol Levels?
While both regular aerobic exercise (the kind that ups your heart rate) and strength-training exercises can make a noticeable difference in your lipid levels and benefit your cardiovascular health, aerobic is the champ for improving cholesterol. However, studies suggest that a combination of aerobic and strength exercises is ideal. According to a 2012 study done by BMC Public Health, engaging in both types of exercise leads to more significant benefits for weight loss, fat loss, and cardiorespiratory fitness than either cardio or resistance exercises alone.
Brisk walking or jogging, bicycling, and swimming are great choices. If you like going to the gym, consider the elliptical machine, treadmill, or step machine. You may also take a class that’s fun and motivating, such as Zumba.
Whatever it may be, something you enjoy doing helps you stick with it longer.
Brisk Walking or Jogging
You don’t have to hit the treadmill at full speed. If you have an issue with your joints or if you are overweight or not used to running, doing treadmill at full speed will do more harm than good.
Begin with an easy walk in the neighborhood, then a long walk, then a slow jog. Not only will this help you lower your cholesterol, but it will reduce your blood pressure too.
Bicycling is easier on your knees, and it can burn just as many calories as jogging. You just have to do is find an appropriately-sized, comfortable bicycle and hop onto it to help you control cholesterol.
If, for some reason, brisk walking, jogging, and cycling are too much on your body, try swimming. It’s therapeutic, can help you reduce cholesterol, and is good for your overall heart health.
It’s not only great for retaining/building muscle and bone mass but may also improve your lipid profile. So, try strength (also called resistance) exercises – such as using your own body weight, resistance bands, machines, or lifting weights.
For the best results, make it progressive. That means as you gain strength, increase the number of reps and weight. The AHA recommends strength training at least twice a week for optimal heart health.
The aim is to burn more calories; the more they are burned, the more you will be able to bring down bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good kind (HDL).
Tip: Gradually increase reps, not weight; as you get stronger,
How Much Exercise Do You Need A Day To Lower Cholesterol?
How often and how much you exercise is also important.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults do one of the following:
- at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week
- at least 75–150 minutes of more vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week
- an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity throughout the week
To improve cholesterol levels, as well as lower your blood pressure and overall risk for heart attack and stroke, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends:
An adult should aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, spread throughout the week. That works out to be about twenty minutes of exercise daily, or thirty minutes of exercise five days per week.
You’ll get better results by being physically active at least 300 minutes (five hours) a week. To gain more benefits, also include moderate- to high-intensity strengthening exercises for at least two days a week in your routine.
How hard & long you work out will make a difference in how much your HDL (good cholesterol) level goes up. So aim for at least thirty minutes (preferably longer if you can) every day.
If you don’t have a large block of time for exercise, break the duration into smaller, 10- to 15-minute chunks. Just make sure they add up to at least 30-45 minutes by the end of the day.
For example, you could jog with your dog for fifteen minutes in the morning, then add another 15-20 minute brisk walk or bicycle ride or some other physical activity that you enjoy.
Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise
- Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster)
- Cycling (10 miles per hour or slower)
- Playing tennis (doubles)
- Casual or ballroom dancing
- Water aerobics
Some vigorous-intensity exercise types
- Racewalking, jogging or running
- Bicycling (10 miles per hour or faster)
- Swimming laps
- Playing tennis (singles)
- Aerobic dancing
- Jumping rope
How Hard Should You Exercise To Improve Cholesterol Levels?
Aim for exercising at a moderate intensity that makes you breathe more heavily than usual, but not so much that you can’t have a conversation.
Experts claim that more intensive or vigorous exercise may have a more positive effect on raising HDL levels. For example, that means jogging a 12-15 minute mile is better than a 15-20 minute pace for boosting HDL (good cholesterol).
According to American Heart Association (AHA): Irrespective of the exercises you choose, the easiest way to ascertain whether you’re working out hard enough to get the most benefits is to track your heart rate. As per AHA, your target heart rate should be in the range of 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So, for example, a 50-year-old would subtract 50 from 220, giving a maximum heart rate of about 170 bpm.
You can also use this AHA’s simple chart for finding the applicable target heart rates.
There are some simple ways to measure your heart rate on the go, such as smartwatches, smartphone apps, or fitness bands. Alternatively, you can use the trusty traditional route and count your pulse by placing two fingers — not your thumb — on the inside of your wrist on the thumb side. Press lightly on the artery and count your pulse for 60 seconds. AHA recommends – if you are just starting a workout routine, you should aim for the lower range, fifty percent of your maximum target heart rate. Over time, gradually build up to eighty-five percent of your maximum target heart rate to get the best out of your exercise regime.
Changes You’ll See
While Your LDL Level Will Reduce, HDL Level Will Increase
Experts say regular exercise can reduce your LDL cholesterol up to fifteen percent and increase your HDL level up to twenty percent.
You’ll see a difference after a few months.
While it can take 3-6 months of exercising regularly to improve your LDL level, it will take longer to see a difference in HDL. Most studies show it takes an average of nine months.
However, if you do high-intensity exercises, you may see improvements in HDL levels sooner, in as little as eight weeks.
Remember, even though you’re exercising, that does not mean that you get a free pass to eat poorly. Don’t get carried away by the all-too-common misconception that, “Because I worked out today, I can eat whatever I want.”
Keep in mind: Exercise along with a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is better than either one alone.
Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor, especially if:
(i) You’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle.
(ii) You are overweight.
(iii) if your high cholesterol puts you at more immediate risk for heart disease or stroke.
Begin with a workout program at a low or moderate intensity until your strength and aerobic endurance increase. Start out exercising in intervals of ten to fifteen minutes and build up progressively to thirty minutes or even more over time. Make sure you increase duration and intensity gradually over time.
Caution: Stop immediately if you have shortness of breath, experience chest pain, light-headedness, or dizziness during exercise.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA, obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”