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The Princeton Longevity Center Medical News

The Impact of Exercise on Cholesterol
By: Christopher J. Volgraf, CSCS

With almost 40% of the population having high cholesterol, exercise has become extremely important in treating patients across the country. There are many of environmental and personal factors that may influence a person's cholesterol composition including genetics, age, gender, level of body fat, dietary intake of fat, cholesterol and carbohydrates, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, medication, menopausal status, and exercise. Exercise can be used by itself or in tandem with proper diet and medication to bring about positive changes in lipid profiles.

A study out of Duke University found that the extent of the body’s positive adaptations to exercise appear to depend on the amount and intensity of the exercise. The more frequent and intense the exercise, the more changes were seen in lipid profiles.

Patients were grouped into jogging 20 miles a week, jogging 12 miles a week and walking briskly 12 miles a week for the eight month study. After the study was completed, patients stopped their exercise program for 14 days. Significant improvements were observed in the lipid profiles of all three groups only one day removed from exercise, but the walking group did not show remaining signs of improvement 14 days after cessation of exercise. This study shows the importance of sticking with a consistent exercise program, as most Americans exercise at a low to moderate intensity. Even after a brief break from exercise after 8 months, improvements were lost in the moderate intensity or walking group.

Both men and women in the 20 mile/week jogger’s group experienced improvements in HDL cholesterol (or good cholesterol), HDL size and large HDL particles for the entire 14 days. Men and women in the walking group saw lower levels of triglycerides one day after cessation of exercise, but only the men sustained this benefit over 14 days. The precise mechanisms are unclear, but evidence indicates that other factors including diet, body fat, weight loss, and hormone and enzyme activity interact with exercise to alter the rates of synthesis, transport and clearance of cholesterol from the blood.

So the question is how much exercise is necessary to bring about positive changes in their lipid profile?

  • Moderate to intense exercise (4-8 on a scale of 1-10 Rating of Perceived Exertion) for 20-30 min on most days of the week.
  • Since high volume/intensity exercise has the highest impact on cholesterol, set a goal of 1,500 calories (burned through exercise), which is the equivalent of 3-4 hours of walking, jogging, or cycling at a moderate to intense pace in a week.
  • Resistance Training should be performed 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, at least twice a week for beginners.  Exercises should target all major muscle groups.
  • In general, the exercise prescription is very similar to that of a weight loss prescription since reduction in weight, body fat and abdominal fat have shown to coincide with lipid profile improvement.

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