There’s a reason workouts are called cardio: They exercise your heart. Physical fitness, along with a healthy diet, can go a long way toward reducing your risk of heart disease.
If you’re watching your cholesterol numbers, you probably already know that elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) can put you at an increased risk for coronary artery disease.
Luckily, there are a number of ways physical activity can help keep your cholesterol in the low-risk range. Here’s why you should get your heart in tip-top shape, and some pointers on how to do it.
Don’t Sit on the Sidelines
Even though you know you’re not doing your body any favors by abstaining from exercise, it’s not like you’re doing damage by cuddling up each night with your remote control, right? Wrong. You’re not just missing out on a chance to improve your health by remaining sedentary; you can actually deteriorate your health and make your cholesterol numbers worse. Think couch potato turned mashed potato.
Cris Slentz, PhD, and William Kraus, MD, both of Duke University Medical Center, have spent the past 10 years studying the effects of regular activity and inactivity on heart health. According to their research, just six months of sitting around doing nothing can significantly increase LDL levels and make that “lousy” stuff even more dangerous.
Find Your Fitness Sweet Spot
So what should you be doing for exercise? According to Slentz, that may depend on your particular lipid profile — meaning whether, for instance, you have low HDL, high LDL or high triglycerides. Certain levels of exercise appear to affect different types of cholesterol in the body.
If you have high triglycerides: Go for a walk. Slentz’s study compared both the amount and intensity of workouts, and found that modest amounts of moderate exercise had the greatest effect on lowering triglyceride levels. What exactly does modest mean? Pretty much equivalent to walking briskly for 30 minutes five days a week — and the Duke team saw double the drop in triglycerides from doing that sort of exercise versus “vigorous” forms like jogging or biking faster than 10 miles per hour.
While lower-intensity exercise does appear to be better for controlling triglycerides, it’s important to note that all exercise groups decreased their levels of this lipid, so if you’re more hare than turtle, do the workout that you enjoy the most.
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