Exercise to Reduce Cholesterol

Heart Race

You have probably read that exercise is good for you (!)   This is true, and it will help lower your bad cholesterol as well, but what kind, and how much exercise should you do?

The first question is easy to answer.   As far as cholesterol and heart health goes, we are talking about aerobic exercise, which means anything that raises your heart rate for a given amount of time.   Your heart supplies all your muscles with oxygen via the bloodstream.    When you do aerobic exercise, your muscles use this oxygen to convert available sugars into energy (hence the “air” in aerobic).   Therefore using your muscles (moving) will raise your heart rate.   The largest muscle groups in your body are those of your back, chest, abs, and legs, so using these will raise your heart rate the most.

Running, swimming, rowing, cycling, and even walking are good aerobic exercises.   As a minimum, if you are sufficiently out of breath to make it difficult for you to talk, you are benefiting from your exercise.   The maximum should be under 65% of your maximum heart rate, because this will give you the maximum aerobic benefit.   Anything more and you fall into the realm of ­anaerobic exercise, which is your body’s way of supplying energy when the aerobic method is not enough.

To find your maximum heart rate, do this calculation, developed by Tanaka, Monahan, & Seals[1]:

  • HRmax = 208 − (0.7 x age)

This applies to both men and women, and is more accurate than the widely used HRmax = 220 – age.

For example, if you are 50 years old, your maximum heart rate will be 208 (0.7 x 50) = 173.   The maximum heart rate for aerobic exercise is 173 * 65% =112 beats per minute.   Here is a table of to give you an idea of maximum aerobic heart rates at various ages.

Age (years)303540455055606570
Aerobic MaxHR122119117115112110108106103

How often and for how long should one do aerobic exercise?    First of all, there is no difference as far as benefits gained between doing fewer, longer sessions and more, shorter sessions, what counts is the overall number of minutes per week.   For most healthy adults, 150 minutes a week of moderately vigorous activity as outlined above is recommended.   Of course, the more you do, the more benefits you get.

Good luck!

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[1] Tanaka, Hirofumi; Monahan, Kevin D; Seals, Douglas R (2001). “Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited”. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 37 (1): 153–6.

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