Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in our blood and is produced by our liver. It is essential for the body as it helps in the production of hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that aid in digestion.
However, when there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries, leading to various health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. High cholesterol levels are a growing concern in the United States, affecting over 95 million adults.
One way to manage high cholesterol levels is through lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and exercise. Exercise, in particular, has been shown to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels.
Today we will discuss the role of exercise in managing cholesterol levels and its benefits. We will also provide tips on how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine to improve your cholesterol levels and overall health.
Related: LDL vs. HDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides: Understanding the Basics
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid or fat that is essential for various bodily functions. It is produced by the liver and is also found in certain foods such as meat, dairy products, and eggs. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of arteries, leading to plaque formation and narrowing of the blood vessels. This can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.
On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream and transport it back to the liver, where it can be broken down and eliminated from the body.
According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim to have an LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dL and an HDL cholesterol level above 60 mg/dL. High cholesterol levels do not usually cause any symptoms, which is why it is important to have regular blood tests to check your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels can be managed through lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and medication if necessary.
What Causes High Cholesterol Levels?
High cholesterol levels can be caused by a combination of factors such as genetics, diet, and lifestyle choices. Some people are genetically predisposed to having high cholesterol levels, which means that even if they maintain a healthy lifestyle, their cholesterol levels may still be higher than average. However, for most people, high cholesterol levels are a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and being overweight or obese.
A diet that is high in saturated and trans fats, found in foods such as red meat, full-fat dairy products, fried foods, and baked goods, can raise LDL cholesterol levels. On the other hand, a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Lack of exercise is another major contributor to high cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels and decrease LDL cholesterol levels, as well as improve overall heart health. Smoking can also contribute to high cholesterol levels by damaging the walls of the arteries and making it easier for cholesterol to build up in the blood vessels.
Being overweight or obese can also contribute to high cholesterol levels. Excess weight can lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol levels and a decrease in HDL cholesterol levels. Losing weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise can help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall health.
How Exercise Helps Lower Cholesterol Levels
Exercise can be a powerful tool in managing high cholesterol levels. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels. Exercise also helps to improve the function of the blood vessels, reducing the risk of plaque buildup and narrowing of the arteries.
In addition to increasing HDL cholesterol levels, exercise can also help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 5-10%. Exercise can also help to lower triglyceride levels, which are another type of fat that can contribute to heart disease.
The benefits of exercise on cholesterol levels are not limited to high-intensity workouts or gym sessions. Even moderate-intensity activities such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming for 30 minutes a day can help improve cholesterol levels. The key is to make exercise a regular part of your daily routine.
It is important to note that the benefits of exercise on cholesterol levels are not immediate. It may take several weeks or months of regular physical activity to see improvements in cholesterol levels. However, the long-term benefits of exercise on overall health and well-being make it a worthwhile investment.
Other Benefits of Exercise
In addition to its positive effects on cholesterol levels, exercise offers a multitude of other health benefits. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Exercise also helps to improve overall cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscle, reducing blood pressure, and improving blood flow. This can help to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Regular exercise has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health. Exercise can help to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as improve overall mood and self-esteem.
Besides physical and mental health benefits, exercise can also help to improve sleep quality, increase energy levels, and reduce stress levels.
The great thing about exercise is that it can be tailored to suit individual needs and preferences. Whether it’s running, cycling, swimming, dancing, or playing a team sport, there is an activity out there that can be enjoyable and beneficial for everyone.
Wrap Up – How Does Exercise Help Control Cholesterol
High cholesterol levels can contribute to the development of heart disease and other chronic health conditions. While medication can be an effective treatment option for high cholesterol, regular exercise has been shown to be a powerful tool in managing cholesterol levels and improving overall cardiovascular health.
Exercise also helps to improve overall cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscle and reducing blood pressure.
By combining regular exercise with these other lifestyle changes, individuals can take control of their cholesterol levels and improve their overall health and well-being. So, whether it’s going for a run, taking a dance class, or playing a team sport, incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine can have a profound impact on your health.