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To Get Cholesterol Benefits, Just Do It

Whatever type of exercise you’re doing, you may believe you need to “feel the burn” to reap real benefits. That may be so for certain fitness goals, but it has nothing to do with improving cholesterol and triglycerides.

Fitness professionals often use the word “FIT” to summarize the three key components of exercise: Frequency, Intensity, and Time/Duration. For cholesterol health, it turns out that the F and the T -- the frequency and the amount of time spent exercising -- are the important elements. The I – for intensity -- isn’t nearly as important.

“While increased intensity can improve your cardiovascular performance, it also has a down side,” says McBride. “Particularly for middle-aged and older adults, it puts you at greater risk of injury. So for most people, we recommend moderate intensity activity of significant duration.”

What does that mean?

  • Do at least half an hour of exercise, five to six days a week, if you’re really looking for the greatest benefit.

“It’s much better to do moderate intensity for 30 to 45 minutes than clutch the handle on the treadmill and get your heart rate up into the red zone for five or 10 minutes,” says McBride. “It’s really a myth that you have to get your heart rate up to benefit from exercise. You just have to do it.”

  • When you climb on the elliptical trainer, set the resistance for 3 and the time for 45 minutes.

You may not be sweating as much as the guy next to you, but your cholesterol and triglycerides will be responding just as much as if you were climbing hills.

And, remember, exercise offers your body many more benefits than just cholesterol control.

“The effect of exercise on cholesterol is important, but the overall effects are more important,” says McBride. “You’re getting many other cardiovascular benefits: lowering your blood pressure, improving diabetes, and reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Exercise is really the right elixir.”