You’ve most probably heard of good and bad cholesterol and wondered what these are really all about. After all, over a million and a half Australians report having high cholesterol yearly. Statistics show that the proportion of those with high cholesterol tends to double with increasing age, becoming especially prevalent among older adults aged 65 and above.
Can cholesterol levels really impact your overall health and well-being? Why is it important to increase your HDL and reduce your LDL? If test results reveal that you have high LDL, can you really resort to natural means to bring the levels down? How true is it that exercise can help lower cholesterol? Read on to find the answers to these important health questions.
What is Cholesterol?
Found in all cells of the human body, cholesterol is a fat-like and waxy substance necessary to manufacture hormones, vitamin D, as well as substances to help you digest food. Cholesterol can also be found in foods such as meat, eggs, and cheese. Some cholesterol is essential for good health and bodily functions but too much can combine with other substances to form plaque. The buildup can narrow or block your coronary arteries and lead to heart disease.
There are two types of lipoproteins that help carry cholesterol through the body:
- LDL or low-density lipoprotein – termed as ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL comprises most of the body’s cholesterol. Diets that are high in trans and saturated fats tend to raise LDL levels.
- HDL or high-density lipoprotein – called the ‘good’ cholesterol, HDL absorbs cholesterol in the blood carrying this back to the liver for flushing from the body. Healthy HDL levels may be able to protect you against stroke and heart attack.
What can cause high Cholesterol levels?
An unhealthy lifestyle is one of the most common causes of high cholesterol. This may comprise of the ff:
- Unhealthy foods and eating habits: consuming a lot of bad fats can elevate cholesterol. Saturated fat is one such fat, found in dairy products, some kinds of meat, baked products, deep-fried foods, processed foods, and chocolate. The other one is trans fat, widely used in processed foods.
- Sedentary lifestyle: lack of exercise and physical activity can contribute to being overweight
- Unhealthy weight: being overweight affects the way your body processes lipoproteins and cholesterol
- Cigarette and smoking: smoking lowers HDL and raises LDL. Studies show these interesting facts: Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure recover from a spike; within 3 months, lung function recovers, and a year after, your risk of getting heart disease is cut in half
There are two factors that can contribute to high cholesterol levels such as:
- Genetics: some inherited conditions such as hypercholesterolemia can affect cholesterol levels
- Medicines and medical conditions: medications such as beta-blockers, diuretics, steroids, and protease inhibitors can lower HDL and raise LDL. Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid gland issues, pregnancy, and kidney disease can cause abnormal levels of cholesterol.
How to Lower Cholesterol?
Whilst medications are usually prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels, there are lifestyle changes you can make. The most recommended modification is eating a healthy, balanced diet made up of vegetables and fruits, less meat, less saturated fats, and little to no processed foods. A good strategy is to include foods that may help lower LDL in your diet such as oats, beans, some nuts, vegetable oils, fatty fish rich in omega-3s, soy, and fiber supplements.
It is also advisable to stop smoking and drink alcohol in moderation. If you’re overweight, reducing your body weight and maintaining it at a healthy level can also help reduce LDL levels.
Can exercise reduce cholesterol? Studies have reported that high cholesterol levels can be caused by two related elements: lack of physical activity and being overweight. So, the answer is a no-brainer: exercise does help improve cholesterol levels naturally. The good thing is that it can also provide other wonderful benefits.
What is the Best Exercises to lower the Cholesterol?
- Aerobics: research shows that regular aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is one of the best exercises for improving cholesterol levels. Cycling, running, and brisk walking are good options for lowering your LDL, improving your cardiovascular fitness, and reducing your chances of having heart disease.
If you love exercising in a group setting, why not try group exercise classes – the fun factor can make sustaining the activity over the long term easier and more enjoyable.
- Swimming and water training: if you’re not keen on running, jogging, or other activities that may be a bit hard on your knees, swimming, hydrotherapy, and aquatic-based exercises can be just as effective as land-based workouts. Training in water has the advantage of buoyancy – less strain on your joints, enhanced balance and coordination, and the ability to train on two planes of motion at once.
- Strength training: resistance exercises are also beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Whether using body weight, resistance bands, free weights, or machines, these can also help you build muscle strength, improve your posture and sense of balance, as well as enhance your functional capacity.
- Yoga: while it may be considered a low-intensity exercise, yoga can also help lower your LDL, reduce stress, and help improve your flexibility and mobility.
The guideline calls for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise. You can break up a daily 30-minute routine into more manageable chunks, say three 10-minute routines in a day instead of one. It is recommended to combine cardiovascular and strength training to get the most optimal benefits.
You can also think of ways of incorporating more physical activity into your daily life like parking the car a little farther to the mall and walking extra steps, taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or walking the dog after dinner in lieu of sitting on the couch and watching TV.
A note before exercising: Remember to take it slow, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while. Also, it’s always prudent to consult an Exercise Physiologist and Physiotherapist before embarking on an exercise regimen. They’re in the best position to assess your health condition and what exercises can bring the best results. Moreover, they can also help refine your technique so you can avoid stalling your gains by incurring an injury.
Get support and advice from our Allied Health Experts
If you’re uncertain of where and how to start in your quest to lower your cholesterol and improve your health, it’s best to seek professional advice. Give our Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists in Hurstville a call via 1300 090 931 today.
Our well-experienced Team of Experts is always ready to support your journey towards better well-being with programs specially customised to your particular needs and requirements. No two individuals are the same so it is essential that you get evaluated and assessed, then prescribed an exercise program tailored to you.