Cholesterol and physical activity
colesterolo e attività fisica

To protect your health and prevent risks to the heart, it is good to change your lifestyle by engaging in some recommended activities, such as:

  • follow a healthy diet, with particular attention to foods rich in saturated fats and favoring healthy foods (vegetables, fruit, fish, cereals)
  • avoid smoking
  • exercise regularly.

Let’s see why sport is so important and, specifically, how it can help us keep cholesterol levels under control, thus avoiding those problems associated with its excess.


Why is it important to practice sports?

There is a very close link between how much physical movement we engage in in our daily lives and our life expectancy: in fact, the most physically active populations generally live longer. Moving around in the environment in which we live helps us to improve not only physical health, but also psychologically and socially, at all ages.
Physical activity means any activity that involves energy expenditure, such as working, walking, shopping and doing housework. These activities are considered a spontaneous physical activity.
Physical exercise, on the other hand, means a planned physical activity practiced with a certain regularity, for example daily or weekly, and in an organized way.

Being active from childhood, coupled with a balanced diet, has many benefits.

  • It is essential for the development of muscles and bones
  • Reduces obesity
  • Improves learning skills
  • Reinforces self esteem
  • It is useful to enhance socialization

Physical activity has many health benefits for adults as well.

  • Helps reduce the likelihood of certain pathological conditions
  • Improves digestion and intestinal function
  • Helps maintain the right body weight therefore contrasts overweight
  • Has positive effects on mental health


What is the difference between aerobic and anaerobic physical activity?

Anaerobic physical activity is an intense and short-term workout where the energy reserves present in the muscles are consumed, without the use of oxygen and with the production of lactic acid.
Aerobic physical activity, on the other hand, consists of movements involving several muscles and for a longer period of time. Aerobic workouts favor an increase in oxygen consumption and a greater blood supply to the muscles, with the involvement of the respiratory and cardio-circulatory systems. During this type of effort, the reserves of sugars and fatty acids in the blood are consumed in order to produce the energy necessary for movement.


The benefits of physical activity in case of high “bad” cholesterol levels

People with cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high levels of LDL, or “bad cholesterol” and triglycerides, low HDL levels, excess body fat or cardiac conditions, must increase physical activity to prevent cardiac events.
Physical exercise, in fact, can reduce the amount of total cholesterol.
The most suitable physical activity to lower LDL values is aerobic, and includes exercises of moderate or high intensity. In particular, it has been shown that in people who are overweight with high levels of fat in the blood, intense aerobic exercise (such as running at a slow speed) can:

  • increase HDL levels
  • reduce LDL levels
  • reduce triglycerides.

In addition to aerobic physical activity, “strength” exercises (resistance training) such as pushups, pull-ups, or exercises using gym equipment are also recommended. This type of exercise is useful for the bones, which remain solid thanks to the stimulation of the muscles, and for the muscles, whose mass is maintained or increased. Muscle strength also improves along with its power and its functional capacity.


What are the best sports for controlling cholesterol?

There is no single best sport, among the recommended aerobic physical activities there are:

  • speed walking
  • running or jogging
  • swimming
  • marching
  • cycling
  • cross-country skiing
  • dancing
  • aerobic gymnastics
  • skating

But how often do you need to train? For both men and women, the recommendations suggest:

  • at least half an hour of moderate physical activity 5 days a week


  • at least 15 minutes of intense physical activity 5 days a week


  • 10 minutes of both options

If a person hasn’t exercised for some time, sessions shorter than 10 minutes can be done in the beginning.
To ensure good results in terms of reducing blood fat, it may be useful to train every day for longer time.

Regarding resistance training, guidelines suggest at least two sessions a week doing exercises that stimulate as many muscles as possible.

Physical activity can be considered an integral part of the treatment for hyperlipidemia. This is why it is important to avoid the do-it-yourself methods and contact your physician for advice and recommendations on the activity to be practiced. The physician (or the operator) will evaluate which sport or exercises to recommend to each individual and will suggest how often and at what intensity to perform them; all to keep you fit, respect your body and improve your well-being.


  • Società Europea di Cardiologia, Società sulla Prevenzione delle Malattie Cardiovascolari nella Pratica Clinica, Associazione Europea per la Prevenzione e Riabilitazione Cardiovascolare (EACPR). Linee guida europee 2016 sulla prevenzione delle malattie cardiovascolari nella pratica clinica. SG Ital Cardiol 2017;18(7-8):547-612.
  • Ministero della Salute. Linee di indirizzo sull’attività fisica per le differenti fasce d’età e con riferimento a situazioni fisiologiche e fisiopatologiche e a sottogruppi specifici di popolazione.
  • Attività fisica e salute
  • Spurway NC. Aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise and the lactate threshold BrinA Mttbcai BulUm (1992) Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 569-591
  • Mann S, et al. Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Med (2014) 44:211–221