Yes, running will help you lower cholesterol. But that is not the whole story.
Many runners assume they do not have to worry about cholesterol because of their active lifestyle. Running will reduce your cholesterol, but you can still have high cholesterol as a runner. Many runners do!
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat substance naturally created by the liver. It is found in the blood and all cells of the body. Your body requires a certain amount of cholesterol to function; it is essential for making cell walls, tissues, hormones, vitamin D, and bile acid. However, your body also gets cholesterol from food, especially animal fats. An excess of cholesterol can cause health problems.
There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Chemically, the difference between LDL and HDL is their structure. An LDL molecule is 50% cholesterol, 25% protein, and 25% other fat (triglycerides and lipids). HDL is 20% cholesterol, 50% protein, and 30% other fat. Protein is higher density than fat, hence the name.
LDL is “bad” cholesterol, and HDL is “good” cholesterol. Excess LDL is harmful because it collects in arteries. Your liver contains receptors that remove LDL as it filters blood. Too much LDL clogs up the receptors, leading to a buildup in the bloodstream. This build-up is called plaque, which can harden and restrict blood flow in arteries, leading to increased heart strain and heart disease.
In contrast, high HDL is beneficial because it facilitates the removal of excess cholesterol. HDL binds with cholesterol in the bloodstream and returns it to the liver, which breaks it down.
You can reduce cholesterol by increasing HDL and lowering your cholesterol intake from your diet. Exercise, such as running, reduces cholesterol by increasing the production of HDL.
Below are my cholesterol numbers from my annual physical as a 40-year-old male runner. There is good news and work to be done.
My total cholesterol is 192 mg/dl, below the 200 mg/dl target. However, I have been trending upward.
My HDL is 74 mg/dl, which compares favorably with the +60 mg/dl target to lower the risk of heart disease. My LDL has broken the “high” barrier at 102 mg/dl.
Lastly, my triglycerides are doing very well, consistent, and low aided by running, diet, and fish oil supplementation.
How To Lower Cholesterol
From now on, I want to reduce my LDL while maintaining my HDL and triglycerides at the current optimal level. Here is my plan, which includes running, supplementation, and diet.
First, I will continue running. Exercise positively affects HDL and triglycerides, which will only help reduce LDL over time.
Second, I will continue taking my daily Peregrune Runner Fish Oil. The omega-3s in fish oil oxidize triglycerides. Exercise and daily fish oil is an effective regimen for lowering triglycerides and improving heart health. Peregrune’s Runner Fish Oil is engineered for runners with a concentrated focus on omega-3s and less filler fish oil.
Third, I will add fiber-rich foods to my diet to match/overpower the intake of higher-fat foods, starting with breakfast. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, lowers cholesterol by binding to it in the small intestines, preventing cholesterol’s absorption into the bloodstream and removing it through feces. Oatmeal is an excellent source of soluble fiber and food I already enjoy. Substituting oatmeal for my typical breakfast of eggs should increase my daily soluble fiber while reducing my intake of higher-fat foods.
Will running reduce your cholesterol? Absolutely. But running alone is not enough. You should monitor your cholesterol levels with annual physicals and track your progress over time. Running plus dietary choices will magnify your efforts. Supplemental with fish oil and fiber will also help. If you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, medication from your doctor will also help.
So lace up your running shoes and get after lowering your cholesterol.