Does running lower cholesterol?
If it does, how much running should you do to see its cholesterol-reducing effects?
Is there a specific way to run?
And is running better for cholesterol than other exercises? Or is it worse?
If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, read on for the answers.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol has a bad reputation. But that’s for a good reason.
Extremely high cholesterol levels have been linked to a host of health issues, including (and especially) coronary heart disease. That’s why your doctor is always (and always has been) on your case about lowering it or keeping it under control.
But what is it exactly?
It’s a combination of fat (lipids) and protein found in every single cell in your body – and it plays a vital role in keeping it functional. It’s a necessary component for creating hormones, vitamin D, and it even aids in digestion.
Your liver actually makes all the cholesterol your body needs. On average, only about 20% of people’s cholesterol levels comes from the foods they eat. All animal food sources contain cholesterol (animal food sources include meats, dairy, and eggs).
Again, despite its bad reputation, cholesterol is good for you. The problem occurs when there’s too much cholesterol in the body. When there’s too much cholesterol, it begins to buildup – and then it becomes known as “plaque.” This plaque sticks to the walls of arteries, and as more cholesterol piles up, the thicker this plaque becomes. If it becomes thick enough, it can block blood flow through arteries, which can lead to a clot, a stroke, or even heart disease.
The Different Types of Cholesterol
Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t actually different “types” of cholesterol; there are instead different types of vessels for carrying cholesterol. The following breaks them down.
- When most people think of cholesterol, they think of what’s known as “low-density lipoprotein,” or LDL. This is what’s commonly referred to as “the bad cholesterol.” It is this kind of cholesterol-carrying vessel that builds up in your arteries as plaque. VLDL (“very low-density lipoprotein”) also contributes to plaque buildup along with LDL and can be lumped in the same category. But VLDL carries triglycerides, not cholesterol, so it’s actually a different thing.
- There’s also HDL, or “high-density lipoprotein.” This one has a good reputation amongst those who know of it – it’s commonly referred to as “the good cholesterol.” Its job is to transport cholesterol from various parts of the body and into the liver, which gets rid of them. But when there’s too much plaque build-up, blood can’t flow through, and therefore neither can HDL. And that means it can’t do its job.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
Before you begin to look at running as a panacea, it’s important to ascertain why you have high cholesterol in the first place. The following is a list of risk factors. If one or more of these items ring alarms, it would be wise to see a doctor and begin taking steps to mitigate the issue.
- Age. The older you get, the higher your level of cholesterol likely is.
- Medication. Certain types of medication (like certain kinds of birth control) can raise cholesterol levels.
- Genetics. Unfortunately, some of us are more prone than others to suffer from high cholesterol levels, simply because it runs in the family.
- Obesity. The higher your body fat percentage, the likelier it is that your cholesterol level is or will be high.
- Diet. If your diet is high in saturated or transfat, then you’re at high risk.
- Smoking. Smoking actually decreases levels of the good cholesterol (HDL) and raises levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL). Yet another reason to quit.
- Inactivity. Prolonged and habitual lack of activity has been shown to increase LDL.
Below is a video created by the American Heart Association specifically to counteract these risk factors.
Does Running Lower Cholesterol?
The short answer?
Yes, running does lower cholesterol.
In fact, all exercise at least contributes in some part to lowering cholesterol and keeping your heart healthy. Some of the reasons for this are just common-sensical. Exercise (running in particular) helps you lose weight. It also helps to increase HDL levels (as we saw above, inactivity has the opposite effect. Inactivity increases LDL levels).
Many studies support these claims. Here are just a few:
- The journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology published a study in 2013 that examined the different effects of walking and running on hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes. Among other things, they found that runners had a 36% lower risk of hypercholesterolemia (a medical term for high cholesterol) as compared to their walking counterparts.
- The journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise published a study in 2001 that found that aerobic exercise (including jogging, running, and cycling) increased HDL by 4.6% while reducing LDL by 5%.
- A study published in The Journal of New England Medicine found that exercising with high-intensity and high-volume (working out harder more frequently) had the most beneficial effects in reducing cholesterol levels.
- A study published in Sports Medicine in 2015 concluded that longer runs yield more health benefits; in other words, among other things, longer runs increase HDL and lower LDL at higher rates.
And there you have it: everything you need to know about cholesterol and running.
If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to leave them in the comments below.