by Scott Henry
Personal Trainer
Lifestyle Fitness Erskineville

So you‘ve decided to tackle your cholesterol. You‘ve stopped smoking, possibly taking medication and standing in front of the pastry case at your local café has become as painful to watch as Sophie‘s Choice. You have made a number of dramatic changes to your lifestyle and yet people are still bugging you to exercise, but why?

Your first thought may be that it is because exercise promotes the loss of excess weight, which is not something you want to have when your cholesterol is high. While this is true, it is only part of the story. Even if you were already at a healthy weight, exercise would still be an integral part of your plan for cholesterol management as it helps you start getting rid of the cholesterol you already have rather than just preventing its increase.

Regular physical activity, among its other benefits, has numerous positive effects on your cholesterol.

One major benefit is that exercise may dramatically reduce your level of triglycerides, which is a form of fat that travels in your bloodstream. Just as exercise burns the fat around your body, it also burns up the fat in your veins as well.

Prolonged physical activity also stimulates your hormones, such as epinephrine, to begin breaking down triglycerides to fulfill the energy demands you are asking for. So to translate this into more basic terms; as you exercise your body starts asking for more and more energy, using whatever fat it can get, including the fat clogging your blood stream, less fat blocking your blood stream then results in a lower cholesterol and ultimately lower blood pressure. This is often the first and most extreme effect exercise can have on someone with a cholesterol problem.

Regular workouts can also boost the level of HDL, the good cholesterol, in your blood. HDL is beneficial to the body because it is able to lightly scrape cholesterol away from arterial walls and off to the liver, protecting against the plaque build-up which is a common cause of heart attack. For this reason, your HDL level is one cholesterol number that you actually want to increase. Higher levels of HDL also appear to go hand-in-hand with lower levels of triglycerides.

Finally, working out helps you shed whatever extra pounds you may be carrying. This can decrease your total cholesterol, including LDL (the bad cholesterol‘). LDL is the stuff that builds up on artery walls, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Exercise does not need to be an enormous undertaking; workouts of less than an hour a day can make a significant difference at your next doctor‘s appointment. One study, in which the pooled results of 25 previous studies were examined, showed that when the 700 plus subjects exercised for 40 minutes a day, their HDL gains were significant enough to translate to a 5-7% drop in overall heart disease risk.

These researchers found that it was the length of the workout (a minimum of 40 minutes) and not the amount of workouts per week which was the true key to success. This is good news! It means you can take a few days off your workout each week provided you are doing the 40 minutes minimum per workout.

Don‘t be worried about breaking any world records when working out, you are there to work at your own pace towards your own personal goals. As exercise should be a part of your regular routine, it is important to choose an activity that you can enjoy and one that keeps you motivated; something which will ultimately determine that you stick with it.

Walking, bicycling, weight training, a cardio class, dancing at a club with mates or even running around the park with the kids. Anything that gets your heart rate up can be a valid exercise option – or utilise the range of exercise options available within the Lifestyle Fitness facilities to mix things up and stop things from getting monotonous.

What is important is that you get moving and keep moving. Remember, as we discussed above, it is not necessarily the intensity of the workout as the duration of the exercise you are doing. In other words, your 40-plus minutes a day are beneficial whether you spend them Zumba-ing or having a spin on the bikes.

With anyone starting an exercise regime we always recommend you consult a doctor to discuss your plans, particularly if blood pressure is a concern. This will stop you aggravating any issues you may have. If you have any questions book yourself in for the free personalised program that all Lifestyle members have access to – this will allow you to find out what exercise options will best help you reach ALL of your goals.

In many studies, it took as little as 12 weeks to see an increase in HDL and a drop in the level of triglycerides. The most significant results in other measures, such as LDL, were seen after 20 weeks or more, when notable weight loss had occurred. In studies where the workouts were spread a bit further apart, 3 to 4 times a week rather than 5 to 6 times a week, it took a few more weeks to see results.

I will leave you with one final, and exciting, fact: the higher the cholesterol of the participant in the study the more effective the use of exercise was in treating it. What this meant was that in the subjects with the highest total cholesterol (220 or more) there was a faster noted drop in the level of triglycerides through exercise.

So the worse off you think you are, the more you may benefit from getting into it. So let‘s get a move on!

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