How Exercise Affects Your Risk for High Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Exercise is a very effective way to reduce risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) and high cholesterol . Regular exercise:

  • Raises "good" HDL cholesterol levels.
  • Can help overweight people lose weight.
  • Lowers blood pressure in some people.

Added benefits of regular exercise include:

  • Mental well-being and stress relief.
  • Increased flexibility, if stretching is done afterwards.
  • Increased bone strength, if the exercise includes weight-bearing exercises, such as jogging or lifting weights.

To get and stay healthy, do activity at a level that is right for you—moderate or vigorous. Try to do:

  • Moderate activity for at least 2½ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Moderate activity means things like brisk walking, brisk cycling, or ballroom dancing. But any activities—including daily chores—that raise your heart rate can be included. You notice your heart beating faster with this kind of activity.
  • Vigorous activity for at least 1¼ hours a week. One way to do this is to be active 25 minutes a day, at least 3 days a week. Vigorous activity means things like jogging, cycling fast, or cross-country skiing. You breathe rapidly and your heart beats much faster with this kind of activity.

To lower risk, each exercise session should be longer than 10 minutes. Try to do aerobic activity for an average of 40 minutes. Try to do this at least 3 or 4 times a week. footnote 1

Customize your exercise program according to your fitness level, the health of your heart, and your personal preferences. Aerobic exercise (brisk walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling,) is best.

Some people, especially those who have a history of CAD, should discuss their exercise plans with their doctors before starting a vigorous fitness program.


  1. Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. Accessed December 5, 2013.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015