Cholesterol is a waxy type of lipid (fat) that occurs naturally in the body. It is produced by the liver and is used by the body to manufacture hormones and bile required to keep us healthy. Cholesterol is also found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry and egg yolks.

The problem with cholesterol arises when you have too much of it in your blood. Then it can stick to the walls of your arteries and form plaque – narrowing your arteries or even blocking them, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol is transported in the blood by two types of proteins: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). You may think of HDL-C as “healthy” cholesterol, and LDL-C as “unhealthy” cholesterol. Though not cholesterol per se, triglycerides are another type of fat that circulate in the blood and can also contribute to your overall heart health risk.

Blood tests measure the level of HDL-C, LDL-C and triglycerides in your blood. If your doctor has told you that you have high cholesterol, it usually means that your HDL-C is low and your LDL-C and triglycerides are high, explains the Department of Physiotherapy and LIFE Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

A cholesterol level that’s too high can put you at a greater risk of cardiovascular conditions, like the narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis), chest pain, heart attack and stroke.

Exercise to manage your cholesterol level

One of the best ways to manage high cholesterol is exercise, which has been proven to increase HDL and reduce triglycerides.

HDL transports excess cholesterol from the cells to the liver for processing and elimination. Increasing your HDL can thus improve your overall ratio of good to bad cholesterol. Additionally, regular exercise can reduce your triglycerides which, along with an improved ratio of good to bad cholesterol, will help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease.

That’s why it’s so important to be physically active. However, exercise is thought to have a minimal effect on LDL. Statins are usually prescribed by doctors to reduce LDL levels.

Beneficial moderate-intensity workouts

For general health purposes, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.

But sometimes, at least 300 minutes of exercise per week might be required before you can see beneficial changes in weight and cholesterol levels. The longer a person spends exercising and the higher the intensity, the greater the potential effect on cholesterol levels.

In addition, cardiologists from Johns Hopkins University found that the people who got the most cholesterol-reducing benefits from exercise were those with the worst diet and exercise habits to begin with.

Steps to get moving

If you haven’t been exercising in a while, start out slow. Then, increase the pace and intensity gradually to reap the maximum benefits. But before you begin any exercise programme, do see your general physician for a complete health check-up.

Consider trying a combination of these forms of exercises to improve your cholesterol status:

  1. Aerobic activities: These are heart-pumping activities such as jogging, jumping rope, biking and swimming.
  2. Strength-training routines: These are muscle-building exercises like squats, push-ups and lunges.
  3. Flexibility exercises: These are an integral part of all good exercise programmes and should be done after each workout.

The key to controlling your cholesterol is to maintain the intensity of the exercise.

You can vary your exercise routine, for instance, changing the activity done in the aerobic / cardiovascular component from jogging to skipping rope. Or you can change the resistance / strengthening activity from weight training to calisthenics. But the intensity should be kept the same to have an effect on your cholesterol levels.

Sometimes having a variety of activities in an exercise programme helps in adherence but it is not necessary. It ultimately depends on the natural inclination of the individual.

Other health benefits of exercise

Besides improving your cholesterol numbers, the overall health benefits of exercise are immense.

When you exercise, you are also getting many other cardiovascular benefits, like a lower blood pressure and a diminished risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise has also been shown to contribute to a lower risk of cancer. Of course, it also promotes weight loss as well as an overall sense of well-being.

Be sure to heed your doctor’s advice concerning exercise and cholesterol management, and take your prescribed medication regularly.

Ref: ​​​​​T12