High cholesterol increases your risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.5% of Americans have high LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
The good news is that a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss are the key components of reducing LDL cholesterol levels. While cholesterol-lowering drugs may also help, most health professionals would recommend lifestyle changes as the first defense (except in those with very high lipid levels, or pre-existing diabetes or coronary disease).*
So, you’ve been told you need to lower your LDL cholesterol. Exercise is one of the best ways to help control your cholesterol. But what kind of exercise should you do? How long and how often?
Here are answers to the questions you may have about the best exercise routine to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and even raise your “good” HDL cholesterol:
What type of exercise is best?
Aerobic exercises seem to benefit cholesterol the most – lowering LDL by 5 to 10% and raising HDL cholesterol by 3 to 6%. Aerobic exercise includes jogging, running and walking.
In addition, newer exercise crazes such as zumba and kickboxing are aerobic. You can even swim, cycle or do yoga. Everyday activities like walking the dog, raking leaves and dancing can also count.
The reason aerobic exercise is the best for reducing cholesterol is that it makes your heart pump harder and faster. You then raise your metabolism and cause your body to burn more calories. Your body burns calories it gained from fat, and reducing this fat impacts your LDL cholesterol levels. Exercise also helps keep LDL cholesterol from building up on the walls of your arteries, which is good for your heart health.
Studies have shown that strength training can also help improve your LDL and HDL levels. In addition, strength or resistance training will help you build muscle. Adding in stretching exercises will help keep you more limber and flexible, and you’ll be less likely to experience an injury. Endurance, strength and flexibility all add up to increase your overall level of fitness.
How much exercise do I need?
Most research has shown that to lower cholesterol levels, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. The good news is that you don’t have to fit it in all at one time. You can divide the time up into 10 or 15-minute sessions – as long as you get in the 30 minutes total.
You can also mix up the types of exercise you do in a day. For instance, you could take a 10-minute walk, rake leaves for 10 minutes and do 10 minutes of strength training.
And, if you’re not up to vigorous exercise every day, then any type of physical activity is better than none. Just get up and get moving!
What else can I do to achieve lower cholesterol?
A side benefit of increasing your activity levels and exercising more vigorously is that you may also lose weight. People who are overweight tend to have elevated LDL cholesterol. Therefore, losing even 5 to 10% of your body weight will also help improve your cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that you can be at the recommended weight and still have high cholesterol, so exercising is important for everyone.
Eating heart-healthy foods
Choose healthier fats such as those found in leaner cuts of meat and low-fat dairy. In addition, monounsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils are healthier options.
Avoid trans fats which can be found in fried foods and many commercially baked products like cookies and snack cakes.
Choose whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pastas and flour, and brown rice. Eat fruits and vegetables because are rich in fiber and help lower cholesterol.
If you stop smoking, it can improve your HDL cholesterol level. You also reduce your risk of a heart attack and your blood pressure decreases.
Drink in moderation
Moderate alcohol levels may increase your levels of HDL or good cholesterol. However, the benefits aren’t strong enough to start drinking if you don’t currently. And, drinking too much leads to serious health problems, so keep it to one drink a day for women and one or two drinks a day for men.
Now, step away from the computer or mobile device and get moving!
*It is important that you consult your physician and other practitioners/counselors/consultants before initiating any changes in your diet or exercise program.