Along with quitting smoking and eating a heart-healthy diet, exercise is a cornerstone of good health. It can even help lower your bad cholesterol and boost your good cholesterol.
A study from researchers at University of Nevada Las Vegas of a group of middle-aged and older men found that a long-term commitment to exercise — 20 years to be exact — greatly reduced their risk of coronary heart disease. According to a news release,
"Improvements throughout the two-decade study lead researchers to believe that exercise - especially when sustained over time - may be the driving force behind healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels."
In fact, many of the participants' heart disease indicators were better than those of young male runners.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, dropped significantly throughout the study — 27 percent after the first year, 60 percent over 20 years
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, improved significantly throughout the first 15 years of the study, with a 60 percent increase after first year
- Total cholesterol (combination of LDL, HDL and other lipid components) dropped nearly 18 percent after year one, 40 percent over 20 years
- Triglyceride levels decreased each year of the exercise program — 23 percent after the first year, 61 percent over 20 years
Triglycerides are a type of fat in your body. Like LDL, high triglyceride levels are associated with heart disease.
Participants met with a trainer four times a week for 20 years and spent 45 minutes on high intensity strength training, endurance and aerobic exercises.
A 2002 study at Duke University found that moderate exercise (for example, 12 miles of walking or jogging a week) lowered LDL somewhat. By boosting the workout to the equivalent of 20 miles of jogging a week, the benefit was even greater.
Among its guidelines on how to lower cholesterol, the Mayo Clinic recommends exercising most days of the week. If you haven't been exercising, start slowly and build up to 30 to 60 minutes a day. Check with your doctor before beginning an intensive regimen.
Choose something you enjoy — a favorite sport, cycling, playing tennis, gardening, dancing, jogging with a buddy. Try to incorporate exercise into everyday activities by taking the stairs rather than the elevator or parking far away from your destination.
In its "Virtual Fitness Room," the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute advises you to begin your exercise program at a cardiac rehabilitation center if you've had heart surgery or a heart attack. In addition, if you feel faint, have chest pain or feel out of breath while exercising, contact your doctor right away.