Saturday, January 12, 2013

Exercise and Cholesterol

For a long time I have wondered what effect exercise has on lowering cholesterol. Just like everybody that I know, I was of the belief that exercise was the answer to all my health problems. I felt that if I could exercise, my health problems would all disappear. Not!

I remember a day when I weighed significantly more and was practically unable to move let alone exercise. During an exam my cardiologist urged me to lose weight and I expressed my frustration at not being able to exercise. Her wise and simple reply was “You can always control your diet.”  Believe it or not that was just the motivation to get me started on the right path. I made my mind up from that point on to control everything I put into my mouth. And, through a process that took a few years I finally adopted a low fat plant-based vegan diet. 

During the transition to a vegan diet I read Dr. Esselstyn’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and it became clear to me that nutrition was really the key to solving my health issues. You see, Dr. Esselstyn’s clinical studies emphasized nutrition as having the greatest impact on lowering lipid levels; it was not a requirement for his patients to exercise. The patients who followed his nutrition plan had significant health improvements and reversal of their heart disease.

But what effect if any does exercise have on cholesterol levels? Well, as it turns out the latest research shows that exercise does help to lower cholesterol levels for two reasons. 

First, exercise helps reduce the risk factors caused by obesity, one of them being high cholesterol levels. Exercise does not use up the cholesterol in your blood, but it does help stimulate enzymes which aid in expelling the LDL (the “lousy” cholesterol linked to heart disease) from your body. So exercise is definitely a good thing. 

Second, it seems that hard, vigorous exercise helps to expand the LDL lipoproteins in your blood. Large, fluffy LDL lipoprotein particles ultimately may do less damage to the lining of your heart and blood vessels than smaller more dense particles. I guess this is a situation where bigger may actually be better.  

But, just how much exercise does one need to lower their cholesterol levels?  Well, unfortunately, moderate exercise WAS NOT found to help significantly lower cholesterol levels. Sorry!  Exercising 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is just not enough to make a significant difference. 

The people who exercised vigorously also raised their levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)--the "good" kind of lipoprotein that actually helps clear cholesterol from the blood. "We found it requires a good amount of high intensity exercise to significantly change HDL," says William Kraus, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke and the lead author on the study. "Just walking is not enough."

It’s a simple but hard fact that if you want lower cholesterol numbers and to reduce the chances of a heart attack you need to control your nutrition. A low fat plant-based vegan diet helps to heal heart disease as well as many other diseases prevalent in our affluent society. Diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer have been directly linked to diet and are preventable. Research still supports the fact that nutrition is key in preventing and controlling disease. 

Everyone agrees that exercise is beneficial to your body for many reasons. However, please don’t be discouraged if you are unable to exercise. If you can--do both--your body will reward you for your efforts! 

In the meantime, you CAN control your nutrition.  Remember nutrition is the single most important thing you can do for yourself and for your health!

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