Those of us who enjoy sport tend to see it as a panacea for all ills. A bit overweight? Exercise. Feeling sad? Exercise. Want to set yourself a challenge? Exercise. But what if you have recently done a cholesterol test and your levels are elevated? Is exercise a good solution here? In this article we discuss the research behind cholesterol and sport, looking at how you can lower your levels safely and effectively, and whether exercise can help.
What is cholesterol, and why might you need to lower it?
Let’s start with the basics. There’s no point trying to lower something if we don’t know what it is!
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance created by the liver and found in the blood. There are two different types: HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol.
When people talk about having raised cholesterol they are generally speaking about LDL – this kind can build up, and if there’s too much in the blood it’s considered one of the risk factors of heart disease. Meanwhile, HDL-cholesterol can pick cholesterol up and take it to the liver to be destroyed, making it the good kind.
Confused? It’s always helpful to speak to a healthcare professional – and you can always request a cholesterol test along the way.
Can you lower cholesterol through exercise?
So now you know what cholesterol is, the question remains: Can you lower bad cholesterol levels through exercise?
The answer isn’t straightforward. Studies have found a link between LDL cholesterol and being overweight, so if you have elevated levels, exercising more may be a good step to take as it can help you maintain a healthy weight.
That said, if a cholesterol test has revealed that your levels are elevated, the most important thing to do is to take a look at your diet. Having a healthy, balanced diet overall is a good start, but it’s replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat that’s the major change to make.
How much exercise should we be doing?
Whether you’re trying to maintain healthy cholesterol levels or not, exercise is important for your health. If you don’t do much sport at the moment, this doesn’t mean you should start trying to run marathons – it’s important to always work from your base level and gradually increase.
The NHS suggests a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity five days a week, so start by trying to get to that point. Once there, you can then add to it. If you’re currently walking 30 minutes a day, for example, try stepping that up to jogging instead for two of those days each week – and if you’re doing that already, why not try weights?
Even if the link between cholesterol lowering and exercise isn’t clear cut, it’s still an important part of any healthy lifestyle. Once you get the exercise bug, you’ll feel great and your body will love you for it – just find something you enjoy and get going.