Exercise can play a significant part in lowering your cholesterol, but it is important to consider your diet too. In some cases, your doctor might also recommend medication to help with your high cholesterol or other issues that are affecting your heart health.
High Cholesterol and Heart Health
Cholesterol is a fatty material that is made by the liver. It plays an essential role in our bodies as it is needed to build healthy cells. Cholesterol circulates in the blood to reach all of these cells, but if the levels get too high then it can cause serious problems.
The cholesterol in your blood is carried around by proteins. When the fatty cholesterol is combined with a protein it is known as a lipoprotein. They can be categorised into two types based on the types of proteins that are carrying the cholesterol and where they are going:
- High-density lipoproteins or HDL is the “good” form of cholesterol because it is moving out of your blood. HDL takes cholesterol to the cells that need it or back to your liver so it can be broken down if you have more than your body needs.
- Non-high-density lipoproteins of non-HDL is the “bad” form of cholesterol because it can settle inside your arteries and cause blockages when there is too much of it in your body.
High levels of bad cholesterol in your blood can be very damaging for your heart health. It can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. The cholesterol can form fatty deposits inside your arteries. If too much of this material builds up then it can affect the blood supply to your brain or heart muscle. If these active tissues aren’t getting enough blood then it can result in a stroke or heart attack.
However, if you have high levels of good cholesterol in your blood it can work against the bad cholesterol. It can remove cholesterol from your blood in order to protect your heart health.
Anyone can have high cholesterol, but it is more common in people who eat fatty diets, don’t get enough exercise, or are overweight. The only way to know for sure if your cholesterol is too high is to get a heart health screening. If the results show that you have too much bad cholesterol in your bloodstream then you should take steps to reduce it.
Exercise to Lower Cholesterol
Exercise is one of the best ways to lower your cholesterol. It can have a direct impact on your cholesterol levels, but it can also help to improve your heart health by helping you to reach or maintain a healthy weight.
Researchers have found that exercise alone can help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Exercise can stimulate enzymes that remove bad cholesterol out of your blood and into the liver, where it can be broken down and removed from your body. It also affects the proteins that carry cholesterol in your blood. When you exercise, these proteins get bigger, which prevents them from getting into the smaller blood vessels. If the bad cholesterol can’t reach these narrow blood vessels then it is less likely to cause blockages.
The effects of exercise are strongest when you are doing more vigorous activities or working out more often, but any amount of exercise will be good for your heart health. It is important to start slowly and build up the amount and intensity of exercise that you do to prevent injuries or putting too much strain on your heart.
- Start out slowly, even if it’s just taking a short walk every day
- Build up to a moderate intensity exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, jogging or using a treadmill
- Increase the amount of time you spend exercising, aiming for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week
- Choose an activity that you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick with it
- Getting into a routine can help, but it can also be good to have some variety in your activities so that you don’t get bored
- Talk to your doctor for advice on exercising safely and effectively, especially if you have any other health problems
What Else Can Affect Your Cholesterol Levels?
Although exercise is one of the most effective ways to bring your cholesterol levels down, it isn’t the only thing you can do. You might get results with exercise alone, but it is best to try changing your diet and lifestyle too. Attacking the problem in multiple ways will increase the chances of success, especially as we can’t always predict which approaches will work best for each person.
Eating a healthy diet is just as important as getting regular exercise for your heart health and cholesterol level. A heart healthy diet to reduce your cholesterol should:
- Lower your fat intake, especially of the bad saturated and trans fats that are more likely to increase your cholesterol levels. For example, switching to olive oil for cooking can make your meals healthier.
- Limit foods that are high in cholesterol, such as liver, whole milk, and egg yolks.
- Increase your fibre intake as it can reduce the amount of cholesterol your body absorbs from food. Wholegrains are particularly good for heart health.
- Include more omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish, seaweed or supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids can boost the amount of good cholesterol in your body.
- Include lots of fruit and vegetables as these contain compounds called sterols that can help to lower your cholesterol.
You should also avoid smoking, limit the amount of alcohol you drink, and lose any excess weight as these steps can also help to tackle high cholesterol.
In some cases, lifestyle changes won’t be enough to manage your cholesterol level and protect your heart health. Your doctor might suggest using medication such as statins too. These can help to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your body, but it is still important to take steps to improve your lifestyle too.