The non-prescription-drug method of lowering cholesterol levels is always best and it has three main components:
- Changing your diet to more whole foods, increased fruits and vegetables (especially those containing soluble fiber), whole grains, lower fat, and less processed foods.
- Quitting smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Increasing your exercise to 30 minutes a day at least 6 days per week.
Given that regular exercise makes you feel great (love those happy endorphins!) and look fabulous, it’s surprising that so many people eschew it totally or put it off until their doctors are almost forcing them to lose weight. Whether you are trying to lower cholesterol levels, improve your general health, drop a bit of weight, or all of the above, there is no fast and easy solution except to adjust your diet and get a little regular exercise; regular is the operative word in that statement!
How Does Exercise Work to Lower Cholesterol Levels?
Exercise has two basic components: resistance exercises and aerobic exercises. Resistance training involves anything that resists your actions; for example, lifting weights. Because the weights are counter to the action you are taking, they, in effect, resist your movement, building muscle power. Aerobic exercise is what speeds your heartbeat sends oxygen through your lungs. In fact, aerobic literally means “living in air”. It is the aerobic component that most directly affects cholesterol levels, but you still need both to ensure not only a healthy weight but good muscle strength, especially as you age. There are several exercises that combine the two:
- Riding a bike. The pedals provide resistance while those hills you ride up really work the aerobic aspects.
- Playing tennis, and to some degree, badminton. The weight of the racquet and the ball provide resistance on your arms, and the running about to get the ball is aerobic.
- Using a Stairmaster, or similar. The unevenness of the steps resists your footing and the action of moving up and down is aerobic.
- Swimming. Your movements are aerobic and the water is the heavy resistance to all parts of your body and limbs.
The aerobic exercise you get from activities like brisk walking fills your lungs and body with oxygen, and creates more HDL cholesterol to break down the other cholesterol, waxy LDL cholesterol. That drops LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. On top of that, aerobic exercise (and resistance exercise) result in the burning of calories, and once you have burned up what is ready and waiting, then it starts to dig into what your body has stored, in the form of fat; lower fat almost invariably means lower cholesterol levels.
There is limited research available on exactly how exercise lowers cholesterol levels because the vast majority of clinical studies have examined the effects of dietary changes in tandem with exercise regimens. One thing that all controlled studies have concluded is that the outcome of exercise is invariably weight loss and lower weight leads to lower LDL cholesterol. That’s simple.
A recent study undertaken by the Department of Pediatrics, Center for Liver, Digestive, and Metabolic Diseases, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” in 2010 isolated exercise and its impact on the cholesterol levels of laboratory mice. Before you start squeaking, there is a reason labs use mice in clinical trials that will ultimately affect human beings; their constitutions behave very similarly to ours. Here is what the study team concluded: “Voluntary wheel running increased cholesterol turnover in healthy mice owing to an increased fecal bile acid excretion and a decreased intestinal cholesterol absorption. Enhanced cholesterol turnover may contribute to the established reduction of cardiovascular risk induced by regular exercise.” You can read the entire abstract of this study by visiting: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20139791.
So, What if I Hate Exercise or Don’t Have Time to Do It?
Every time you move, you are getting some degree of exercise. Not everybody wants to be buff and lean; it’s an image as well as a body type. But was we noted at the beginning of this article, exercise feels great. A lot of people who never exercise in any focused way criticize exercise “freaks”, but be forewarned, it’s additive! The euphoric feeling you get after exercise, thanks to the release of natural endorphins, hooks people on exercise for life! Try it!
There are easy ways to get enough exercise, even if you’re pressed for time. Here are a few simple, easy ways to get aerobic exercise without infringing too much on your already crammed schedule:
- Make doing housework or gardening your exercise time, too. Put on some quick-tempo music as you do the housework to help increase the speed that you tackle your chores. Dance with the vacuum cleaner or mop. Reach high with the feather duster (instead of using a stool) and stretch! Dig that garden with enthusiasm! And try mowing the lawn against the clock! Rake by hand and sell the leaf blower!
- Park your car as far away from the grocery store, mall, office building, or wherever you are going, and walk the rest of the way.
- Walk to work or school. (Yes, we can hear you folks in the north complaining about winter weather; wear a warm coat, dress for the weather and get walking!)
- Take the stairs and not the elevator, unless you live or work on the 90th floor…
And here are some ways to exercise with your spouse, children or friends that will be fun and productive “us time”:
- Take Latin and Ballroom or Hip-Hop dance classes. The last person we recommended this to took us seriously and became North American amateur cha-cha champion, dancing with her husband. It enhanced their marriage, got them moving in unison, resulted in a combined weight loss of 38 pounds, lowered both of their cholesterol levels, and improved their sense of rhythm!
- Go for family or group bikes rides to tour a new park or natural area, or ride along a stretch of waterfront. Take a healthy picnic and make a day of it.
- Get involved in a mixed-gender, all-ages sports club to play squash, racquetball, badminton or tennis, or join a rocking-climbing gym.
- Get a dog and go for walks several times a day. People who have never had a dog have no idea pf the social pleasantries of this type of activity; you meet all kinds of people with their pets and there is a natural tendency to stop and chat, comparing pooches and sharing the day. The dog benefits and so do you!
Of course, there are dedicated types of exercise regimens, such as buying a membership at a fitness club or gym, joining a boxing club or playing soccer or hockey with an organized league. What is most important is that you choose something that interests you, so that you’ll stick with it, and ensure that it’s a type of exercise that works for your new, lower-cholesterol lifestyle. And respect your age and abilities. Older people with perhaps a touch of arthritis will likely enjoy dancing more than playing hockey. Don’t set your goal too high or you might become discouraged.
Here are your tips for exercise as a way to reduce cholesterol:
- If your health is otherwise compromised, always check in with your general practitioner before undertaking any major exercise program.
- Try the buddy system to stay motivated.
- Don’t start by jumping in to 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week; work up to it gradually.
Not only will your cholesterol levels benefit from regular exercise, it will lift your spirits mentally, and grant your entire body better health. It’s a win/win situation, so get moving!