Can exercise really be medicine? Evidence suggests that exercise has many benefits including reducing your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and high cholesterol. It’s certainly cheaper than many prescription medications and has fewer side effects. However, is physical activity really an effective treatment on its own? When combined with weight loss, it can certainly benefit people suffering from various conditions including high cholesterol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 102 million American adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dl, which is above healthy levels. Unfortunately, more than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dl or higher, which puts them at a high risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Often, physicians will prescribe medications to lower your cholesterol levels, but many people also choose to treat their high cholesterol through various lifestyle changes like exercise and weight loss. According to Robert H. Eckel, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Cardiology Division at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, “The right kinds of workouts, done regularly, can raise levels of heart-protecting HDL cholesterol and drop dangerous triglyceride levels. By losing fat and building muscle, your numbers can really improve.”
If your cholesterol numbers aren’t where they should be, consider adding physical activity to your treatment plan to lower your cholesterol. Here’s how it works:
- Exercise helps you lose weight.
Being overweight can increase the amount of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) in your blood. This lipoprotein has been linked to heart disease.
- Exercise helps stimulate enzymes that help move LDL.
These enzymes help move LDL from the blood to the liver. Once moved to the liver, it is either converted into bile for digestion or excreted. Exercise helps your body expel more LDL.
- Exercise helps to increase the size of protein particles.
These protein particles carry cholesterol through the blood. Some of the particles are small and dense and some are large and fluffy. The small particles are dangerous because they can squeeze into tight spaces in the heart and blood vessels and can eventually clog. The larger particles are less likely to fit and cause a blockage.
- Vigorous exercise can raise HDL.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good kind of lipoprotein and helps clear cholesterol from the blood. For this to happen, a good amount of high-intensity exercise is required.
According to a study done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center in 2002, more intense exercise is better than moderate exercise for lowering cholesterol. However, moderate exercise is great for keeping cholesterol levels from rising.
If you haven’t been exercising regularly but want to include physical activity in your treatment plan for lowering your cholesterol, make sure to start slowly. Check with your doctor so that your cardiovascular health can be evaluated prior to increasing physical activity and consider working with a personal coach to help you reach your goals of a stronger, healthier you!