Heart health – Cholesterol

Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can help to lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.

There is a direct relationship between chronically elevated cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia) and coronary heart disease. A reduction in total cholesterol is considered the gold standard in preventative cardiovascular medicine. So how is cholesterol affected by exercise and diet?


Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the physical fitness of individuals with hypercholesterolemia, and improve cholesterol levels. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the ‘good’ cholesterol. Doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week can improve your cholesterol levels.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity (RPE 13 – ‘Somewhat hard’) means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and breathing rate – but still ableto talk. E.g. cycling, brisk walking or running, swimming. People with higher HDL tend to be at a lower risk of heart disease.


You can begin to reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the ‘bad’ cholesterol by making a few simple changes in your diet. Both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL cholesterol.

Most plant-derived oils contain both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids which can help lower LDL cholesterol, including:

  • canola
  • sunflower
  • olive
  • grapeseed and peanut oils, contain both.

Fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring, and mackerel), seeds, nuts, avocados and soybeans are also great sources of cholesterol-lowering fats.

Fruits and vegetables have loads of ingredients that lower cholesterol — including fibre, cholesterol-blocking molecules called sterols and stanols, and eye-appealing pigments. The heart-healthy list spans the colour spectrum — leafy greens, yellow squashes, carrots, tomatoes, strawberries, plums, blueberries.

As a rule, the richer the hue, the better the food is for you.

What about fat-free foods?

Finally, don’t substitute sugar for fat. Experts warn that it’s one of the worst choices you can make. Food manufacturers may boost the sugar content of low-fat salad dressings and sauces to add flavour. If you see sugar, corn syrup, or any word ending in ‘ose’ near the top of the list of ingredients, choose a higher-fat version without trans fats instead.

If you have high cholesterol, making changes in your diet can help bring it down into the healthy range and exercise can help boost the level of protective HDL. Several types of medication, notably the family of drugs known as statins, can powerfully lower LDL. Depending on your cardiovascular health, your doctor may recommend taking a cholesterol-lowering medication.

For more information please visit:

Health Direct Australia

Harvard Health Publications

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