Exercise is good for the heart, but does it play a role in improving cholesterol health? Online weight loss coach Andrew Cate investigates and helps to uncover the ideal amount and intensity of running to get results.
Exercise and heart health
Participating in regular physical activity such as running to boost your cardiovascular fitness is associated with improvements in heart health. Like all muscles, the heart becomes stronger from regular exercise, helping it to deliver blood more efficiently throughout the body.
Some of the heart health benefits of exercise include:
- Healthy blood pressure
- Reduced blood fats (triglycerides)
- Reduced resting heart rate
- Weight loss and weight management
- Improved control over blood sugar levels
- Improved management of stress
How running effects cholesterol
A prospective, randomised study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared differing amounts and intensities of exercise to determine the effect on cholesterol levels. Subjects were randomly assigned into four different groups, including a:
1. Long duration, high-intensity exercise
- The equivalent of jogging approximately 32km per week at 65 to 80 percent intensity.
2. Short duration, high-intensity exercise
- The equivalent of jogging approximately 19km per week at 65 to 80 percent intensity.
3. Short duration, moderate-intensity exercise
- The equivalent of walking approximately 19km per week at 40 to 55 percent intensity.
- Who did no exercise throughout the study period
Subjects were given 2 to 3 months to adapt, and were then observed for six months at an activity level relevant to their grouping. The subjects were instructed not to change their diet, and had their heart-rate monitored during all exercise sessions.
The results showed that the duration of exercise appears to make a greater difference than the intensity of exercise on cholesterol profiles. However, in what is a positive result for runners, only the long duration, high-intensity group had extensive improvements in their overall lipoprotein profile. This included reduced concentrations of LDL and small LDL particles, and a beneficial effect on HDL cholesterol concentration.
The best way to run for a healthy cholesterol level
According to the finding in this study, there are some important implications for runners who wish to boost their cardiovascular health and manage cholesterol levels.
Run long - Duration was more important than intensity in improving participants' cholesterol profile. Aim to clock up at least 32 kilometres a week as part of your running training.
Don't give up if you don't lose weight - If you are running to lose weight but feel frustrated because you don't see any drastic changes on the scales, don't despair. The study found that regular exercise with minimal change in weight offers broad beneficial effects on cholesterol health.
Any exercise is still beneficial - While the short duration groups both experienced fewer improvements than the long duration group, this lesser amount of exercise still provided benefits. Smaller amounts of exercise helped limit or prevent weight gain and a worsening of the overall cholesterol profile that was observed in the inactive control group.
Don't overtrain - Excessive exercise without adequate recovery time can weaken your immune system and increase your susceptibility to illness.
Check with your doctor - If you have any concerns about your cardiovascular health, it would be wise to see a doctor before commencing physical activity such as running.