How You Can Improve Your Cholesterol With Simple Exercise

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Often, the first recommendation to lowering cholesterol – before resorting to statin medications that are both expensive and can have serious side effects – is a significant change in diet and exercise. A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet makes sense conceptually, but why is exercise an important factor in the quest to lower cholesterol?

Does Exercise Really Lower Cholesterol?

The American Heart Association explains, “A sedentary lifestyle is one of the 5 major risk factors (along with high blood pressure, abnormal values for blood lipids, smoking, and obesity) for cardiovascular disease.” Not only does regular exercise help with both weight loss and blood pressure, but there is a direct effect on cholesterol as well: “Exercise can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood (the low-density lipoprotein [LDL] level), as well as total cholesterol, and can raise the “good” cholesterol (the high-density lipoprotein level [HDL]).” 

How Does Exercise Lower Cholesterol?

Exercise helps lower cholesterol in three ways. The first and most obvious is weight loss: being overweight goes hand-in-hand with high LDL (bad) cholesterol and is thus a major cardiovascular risk factor. The second mechanism also deals with LDL. As explained by WebMD’s Exercise To Lower Cholesterol, “Exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood (and blood-vessel walls) to the liver. From there, the cholesterol is converted into bile (for digestion) or excreted. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body expels.” Finally, exercise also increases the size of the protein particles that carry cholesterol and the bigger the particles the less able they are to stick – and clog – arteries.

How Much Exercise Is Needed To Lower Cholesterol?

The AHA recommends one of two kinds of exercise. The first: at least 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise most days – at least five days per week – which corresponds to 150 minutes of exercise (or more) per week. This can be 30 minutes all at once, or broken up in increments throughout the day. Moderate exercise is walking briskly (3-4 miles per hour) or similar activity level. The second exercise choice is at least 25 minutes of vigorous exercise (jogging as opposed to walking) at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes. Or a combination of these two.

In addition to the moderate and/or vigorous exercise above, the AHA also recommends moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week.

It should be noted that these are the broad exercise guidelines for cardiovascular health for most people. This level alone might not be enough to actually reduce cholesterol dramatically – indeed, other studies have shown that more – and more intense – exercise reduced cholesterol more effectively. Lastly, it’s always advised to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime.

How Do I Start An Exercise Program?

Which exercises to do how often depends a great deal on your current lifestyle: if you are mostly sedentary, starting an exercise program focused on walking a total of thirty minutes per day is likely the best route to success. From there, it’s possible to add more vigorous exercise once 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is routine. Checking with your doctor and/or a trainer at a local gym is a great way to start.


Daily exercise is a critical component of lowering cholesterol. It actually reduces cholesterol and along with dietary changes may help keep statin medications at bay.

Did You Know?

Walking 10,000 steps per day (measured by pedometer) is roughly equivalent to the recommended 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise. A great way to work up to this goal is the ‘America’s Walking’ 20% Boost Program which provides an easy-to-follow walking program with daily and weekly recommendations.


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