5 Types Of Workouts That Will Slash Your Cholesterol
When it comes to keeping cholesterol levels in check, some workouts are better than others.
High cholesterol plays a major role in men's health, posing a significant risk to the heart. Elevated levels of LDL, or the notorious "bad" cholesterol, can lead to plaque buildup in arteries, potentially triggering heart attacks and strokes. It’s a huge issue, with 86 million adults age 20 or older in the U.S. having at least borderline high cholesterol, including 25 million (10% of all adults this age) who have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luckily, regular exercise, with its plethora of cardiovascular benefits, is an effective strategy for lowering cholesterol and reducing these risks.
“Cholesterol is influenced by both diet and exercise. On the exercise side of the equation, research suggests that cholesterol levels are associated with stress, body composition, and cardiorespiratory health,” says Michael Masi, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy and certified personal trainer at Garage Gym Reviews.
These five types of workouts below, offered by Masi, are backed by research to help lower cholesterol levels and safeguard heart health. There’s a workout for everybody here, so pick your favorite and get to it.
1. 150 Minutes of Moderate Aerobic Exercise
Cardio is your first line of defense against high cholesterol. This includes exercises that get your heart pumping and increase your breathing rate, such as jumping rope, jogging, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling. According to a 2023 meta-analysis, cardio workouts help lower LDL cholesterol levels while boosting HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.
“Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise weekly,” says Masi. For example, jog for 30 minutes, five times a week, at an easy pace. Gradually increase the distance you cover by either jogging faster or for longer.
2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT, which involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods, is a powerhouse when it comes to cholesterol control. What makes HIIT stand out from other workouts is its efficiency; the type of training delivers significant cardiovascular benefits in a shorter amount of time than traditional workouts. And research suggests that HIIT can effectively reduce LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels while elevating HDL cholesterol.
HIIT can be adapted to various activities, from running and cycling to bodyweight exercises. “It’s fairly simple to create your own HIIT workout with what you have available,” Masi says. For a running HIIT session, he recommends warming up for five minutes with stretching and calisthenics. Then alternate between 30 seconds of sprinting and 30 seconds of walking for 15 to 20 minutes. End with a five-minute cool down of static stretching.
For those who hate running, try this bodyweight HIIT workout you can do at home. Do each of the following exercises for 40 seconds at a high intensity, then rest for 20 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
- Mountain Climbers
- Goblet Squats
- Plank to Alternating Toe Touch
- Reverse Lunges
Complete the circuit four times.
Yoga might not be the first exercise that comes to mind when thinking of heart health, but according to the National Institutes of Health, yoga helps reduce stress, a known contributor to high cholesterol. Additionally, research suggests that a regular yoga practice can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, making it a gentle yet practical approach to cholesterol management.
If you want to make yoga your primary workout, Masi recommends doing yoga in a class or at home for at least 20 to 30 minutes, three to five times per week. “Find a calm environment for mindfulness, focus, and meditation during the training,” he says. “Various styles and levels are available, so choose one that fits your needs and abilities.”
4. Resistance Training
Resistance training, also known as strength training, isn’t just for building vanity muscle; it's also a valuable tool in the fight against high cholesterol. Lifting weights and using resistance bands increases muscle mass, which in turn elevates your metabolism. A higher metabolism means your body burns more calories, including those stored as fat and cholesterol. As you shed excess fat, LDL cholesterol levels drop. Studies show also that strength training can improve insulin sensitivity, another vital aspect of cholesterol management.
“Engage in weightlifting or bodyweight resistance exercises for at least 20 to 30 minutes, two to three times a week,” Masi recommends. “Include exercises that target multiple muscle groups at a time for increased effectiveness per unit of time, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, deadlifts, rows, and presses. You can leverage your body weight or add external resistances via bands, dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells. Use a weight that allows you to perform between eight to 20 repetitions for each set before losing form.”
For example, warm up for five minutes with stretching and calisthenics. Then perform three sets of the following exercises, with 12-15 reps set in each set, for a solid 30-minute workout.
- Dumbbell Goblet Squat
- Kettlebell Deadlift
- Elevated push-Up
- Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
5. Tai Chi
A graceful martial art originating from China, known for its slow, flowing movements and deep breathing, Tai Chi has garnered attention for its potential to improve cardiovascular health. A 2022 meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that Tai Chi can lower LDL cholesterol levels, improve blood pressure, and promote overall heart health. It's an excellent option for those seeking a low-impact yet powerful exercise routine for cholesterol control.
“Tai Chi is a form of gentle movement-based exercise that can help improve cholesterol levels by reducing stress and enhancing physical fitness,” Masi explains. “Join a Tai Chi class or find instructional videos online. Practice for about 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week in a calm environment to clear your head.”
Although exercise is essential in helping to lower cholesterol, your levels are influenced by both diet and exercise. So, be sure to pair these workouts with a heart-healthy diet to keep your cholesterol low and heart in good shape for years to come.