Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Is there a link between exercise and cholesterol levels?"
Will my cholesterol go down if I exercise? I'm 50 and have dangerously high cholesterol.
This is a fantastic question. First let me say a little about the importance of cholesterol and then I’ll write about what we know about how exercise affects cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is one of the basic building blocks of cell membranes and is critical for constructing many hormones. Unfortunately, cholesterol has other roles that are more harmful. The reason that so many doctors care about it is because cholesterol is involved in plaques in arteries and the disease process that causes strokes and heart attacks. This is where good cholesterol and bad cholesterol come into play. Though most people are concerned simply with the “bad” cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol is also important, and exercise has an effect on both. Multiple studies have attempted to answer how much and what intensity of exercise is needed to achieve a benefit. It appears that approximately 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week is sufficient to have beneficial effects. This works out to about 900 Calories worth. The effects of exercise vary person to person, but on average can lower your LDL cholesterol by 4mg/dL and raise your HDL cholesterol by 2mg/dL, though for some the effects can be significantly more. What type of exercise is the best? My general answer is any exercise that you really enjoy. No matter how good any exercise is for you, if you don’t enjoy you probably won’t be able to stick with it. Examples of good exercises include brisk walks, swimming laps, or exercise classes such as spinning or cardio classes. Your primary care physician can best discuss ways to help you meet your goals. Good luck!
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