Your cholesterol levels have a lot to do with what you eat. But that isn’t the only factor. Adopting a more active lifestyle can also help you lower cholesterol to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Although researchers aren’t entirely sure how exercise lowers cholesterol, they know that it does. Exercise may help with weight management and keep “bad” LDL cholesterol levels lower.
Exercise may help move LDL from the blood to the liver, where it can be converted into bile and excreted during bowel movements. It may also increase the size of protein particles that carry cholesterol through your blood.
The latter may be a key function.
There are different types of LDL cholesterol, and the most dangerous are small, dense particles. These are the ones that accumulate along arterial walls. Exercise seems to increase the size and lessen the density of the particles, allowing them to float through the bloodstream and not bunch up.
Larger, fluffier lipoprotein particles do not have a negative effect on vein or heart health.
Vigorous exercise may be better for lowering cholesterol than moderate exercise. Some research has found that while moderate exercise may prevent LDL levels from rising, it does not lower them. Intense exercise, however, can reduce LDL and increase “good” HDL.
One study that examined exercise and cholesterol in overweight sedentary people found that those who got moderate exercise, the equivalent of 12 miles of walking or jogging per week, saw LDL stay relatively similar. However, those that did more vigorous exercise, about 20 miles of jogging per week, lowered LDL and boosted HDL.
Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle that can help lower or control cholesterol and potentially contribute to several other positive health outcomes.
But don’t rush it.
If you’ve been sedentary and want to enjoy the cholesterol-lowering effects of exercise, ease into a program. Start with walks or other light/moderate work before increasing intensity. Give yourself a few weeks to get used to it before taking on more.