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A simple lifestyle change can have a dramatic impact on your HDL cholesterol level: More exercise. A meta-analysis of peer-reviewed studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that regular moderate cardio can increase HDL cholesterol. The key to this improvement, however, is to make sure that you exercise for a long enough period of time. Ornish Lifestyle Medicine prescribes 180 minutes per week, which is well above the minimum of 120 minutes a week that research has found causes an effect. This research also gives hope for those people who are not able to exercise at higher intensities.

We are missing the boat by focusing so heavily on treating total and LDL cholesterol with medication alone.

The role of HDL in our body is to remove cholesterol from the plaque deposits in the artery walls. The HDL then takes the LDL cholesterol to the liver to be excreted. According to the often-cited Framingham Heart Study, low levels of HDL are associated with increased mortality in both men and women.

A benefit of using exercise as a treatment, in addition to prevention, is that it does not cause the potential side effects of prescription medications, particularly statins. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011-2012, 27.9% of adults over the age of 40 reported the use of prescription cholesterol-lowering medication within the past 30 days. This was an increase from 2003–2004 when one in five adults used a cholesterol-lowering medication (19.9%).

We are missing the boat by focusing so heavily on treating total and LDL cholesterol with medication alone. According to Eapen et al. in a study published in The International Journal of Women’s Health, 65%–75% of cardiovascular events still occur in adults who are taking these medications.

Another meta-analysis of 19 randomized controlled trials published in the journal Atherosclerosis found an 11% increase in HDL among people who did cardio exercises for eight weeks. According to Eapen et al. in the study published in The International Journal of Women’s Health, for every 1 mg/dl increase in HDL, the risk for CHD drops 2% in men and 3% in women. This improvement in HDL comes without the potential side effects and costs of prescription medications.

Use More than One Strategy

To receive the full benefits of most lifestyle interventions, it takes more than one strategy to make a large difference. If your goal is to raise your HDL, exercise is one powerful and proven strategy. But combined with others, it’s even more effective. Another major strategy to improve HDL cholesterol is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking will help to raise your HDL cholesterol and is certain to have a causal effect on heart disease. The Eapen et al. study found that HDL levels begin to rise in as little as two weeks after you quit smoking.

Combining exercise with the proven benefits of a plant-based nutrition plan, which is both low in fat and cholesterol, strong social support, and an active stress management program, will give you the best chance of raising your HDL and preventing coronary artery disease.

Have you taken steps to improve your HDL cholesterol?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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