In photo: John Olinski, Clinical Laboratory Scientist and Supervisor of the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Laboratory which processes over 240,000 tests annually. John Olinski resides in Westfield, MA.
Exercise has many healthy benefits. Not only can it keep your weight down, build up muscle, and reduce your risk of certain diseases, exercising regularly also has beneficial effects on the heart and your cholesterol levels.
But exactly how does exercise affect your cholesterol?
Early cholesterol studies focused on both exercise and dietary changes, making it hard to know which of these factors was actually making the difference. But recent studies have more carefully examined the effect of exercise alone, making it easier to evaluate the relationship between exercise and cholesterol.
It’s helpful first to understand:
Cholesterol in the body is a good things, it is needed for cell membranes and the production of hormones, among other functions. But very high levels can signal that there is too much fat in the blood. For decades, doctors have known that people with high total cholesterol levels are at higher risk for heart disease. More recently, they've found the different forms of cholesterol know as "good" and "bad" also affect risk. Knowing your cholesterol levels is an essential part of understanding your own risk for heart disease.
The LDL measurement stands for the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol which is regarded as the ‘bad cholesterol’ and one of the leading causes of coronary heart disease. LDL carries cholesterol through the bloodstream and deposits it on the walls of the arteries in a form of plaque. This reduces the circumference of the pipes (arteries) and puts undue strain on the pump (heart). This formation of plaque is referred to as atheroma, or the disease of atherosclerosis.
The HDL measurement refers to the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or ‘good cholesterol’. This type of lipoprotein draws cholesterol and fat deposits away from the walls of the arteries and out of the body through waste, reducing the risk of heart disease.
A sedentary life can keep your LDL, Low Density Lipoprotein or bad cholesterol levels high and your HDL- High Density Lipoproteins or good cholesterol levels low, just the opposite of the way you want them. Being overweight tends to increase the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in your blood, the kind of lipoprotein that's been linked to heart disease.
How can you safely start a healthy exercise plan you can stick with?
- First always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen to lower cholesterol, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle or have chronic health problems like heart disease.
- Then pick an activity you like, otherwise, you won't stick with it. I personally love to run, but if you hate running, don't buy jogging shoes just because your best friend lost weight running. To help lower cholesterol, choose dynamic forms of exercise that tend to last at least 20 to 30 minutes, fit your personality, and can be performed at moderate intensity.
- Know your numbers! If it's been awhile since your last cholesterol screening, that is another good reason to visit to your doctor. If you think that the normal reading you had in 2004 means you're in the clear, think again: Cholesterol levels often rise with age. It is recommended that everyone 20 or older should be screened for high cholesterol at least once every five years, with more frequent screenings for anyone deemed to be at high risk for heart disease.
- Buy a pedometer and track how many steps you walk on an average day. Start small and set realistic goals. The recent national guideline for walking adults is about 10,000 steps per day. How far is 10,000 steps, the average person’s stride length is approximately 2.5 feet long. That means it takes just over 2,000 steps to walk one mile, and 10,000 steps is close to 5 miles. A sedentary person may only average 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day. For these people adding steps has many health benefits.
Although researchers are still trying to determine exactly how exercise affects your cholesterol, the bottom line is clear: moderate exercise has favorable effects on all aspects of your cholesterol profile. Current studies suggest that moderate exercise can reduce LD cholesterol 5 to 10%, whereas HDL cholesterol can be raised by between 3 and 6%. Although this may not seem like much, combining exercise with other lifestyle changes can help keep your cholesterol levels -- as well as the rest of your body -- healthy.
Of course, exercise alone won't guarantee a low cholesterol level. Genetics, weight, age, gender, and diet all contribute to an individual's cholesterol profile. The most effective way to ensure a healthy cholesterol level is to talk to your Doctor, he will make recommendations that best suit you regarding diet, exercise and if need be, cholesterol-lowering medications.
John Olinski, Clinical Laboratory Scientist and Supervisor of the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Laboratory Department, a full-service laboratory which processes over 240,000 tests each year. Baystate Mary Lane Hospital also offers a walk-in Radiology and Laboratory Patient Service Center from a satellite location at 95 Sargent Street (Route 9) facility in Belchertown. All specimens are processed within the laboratory at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital or at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, the Western Campus for Tufts University School of Medicine.