Exercise is essential to a healthy heart. With February being Heart Month, it’s the perfect time to talk about a few ways exercise can lower cholesterol, dramatically decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke, and increase your probability of a longer, healthier life.
One of the most important topics we hear about when it comes to your heart is cholesterol. Whether in the classroom or on a cheerios commercial we have all heard the term. Let’s take a quick second to learn a little bit about cholesterol.
There are many groups of lipoproteins, but we will just touch on the main two.
LDL cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, is the main lipid that causes damaging buildup and blockage in your arteries.
HDL cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein or “good” type of cholesterol, helps to prevent “bad” cholesterol from building up in your arteries. HDL cholesterol removes LDL cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong.
Now that we know the difference, let’s talk about how exercise can play a vital role in managing both types of cholesterol and why this is so important for your heart.
One way exercise can start improving your cholesterol is by losing weight. Being overweight tends to increase the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in your blood. These are the “bad” kind of lipoprotein that’s been linked to heart disease. These LDL cholesterol act like plaque that sticks to the blood vessel walls causing atherosclerosis or clogging of arteries. Exercise helps to stimulate enzymes in the body that help move these bad cholesterol from the blood and walls of blood vessels and sends them straight to your liver. From there, the liver converts the bad cholesterol into bile for digestion or excretes them from the body. Thus, the more you exercise, the more LDL (bad cholesterol) your body expels!
Exercise also helps increase the size of Lipoproteins that carry the cholesterol. These Protein particles combine with cholesterol to create the lipoproteins which deliver fats around the body. Lipoproteins can be many different sizes. Some are big and fluffy (the kind we want) and some are small and dense (the kind we don’t want). The smaller more dense lipoproteins can get lodged in small linings of the heart and blood vessels leading to clogged arteries and a greater risk of heart attack and stroke over time. Research shows that exercise increases the size of these protein particles carrying both good and bad lipoproteins giving our body a better opportunity to utilize the good cholesterol and excrete the bad.
The importance of a good diet can never be overlooked. We must continue to find a healthy balance of diet and exercise as we push to find our optimal heart health. Getting out a little more each day or making a little more effort to push your body to new limits could flat out save your life.
Some easy ways to incorporate activity into your daily routine.
We recommend before starting any program of physical activity or exercise to always consult your health care provider first. For more information on heart health and cholesterol, check out the links below.
Scott Ryan, CSCS
Director of Sports Performance