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Research Institute update: Cholesterol Control

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Research Institute update: Cholesterol Control back to list

06 March 2014

Translating evidence to use every day in the sector

New evidence emerges almost daily on how physical activity can be used to prevent and treat illnesses but making sense of it all is incredibly difficult. Information is often contradictory to previous studies, and overly complicated - making it largely of little use to the people that need to use it the most.

But when we recommend exercise to our clients, members and participants we have to be confident that what we are recommending is the best thing to do for their conditions and needs.

A role of the ukactive Research Institute (UKARI) is to make information available, digestible and practical so the sector can improve what is offered to its users. And so earlier this year we reviewed the available evidence on 'lipid profile,' - the various forms of cholesterol and other fats in the blood - putting it into practical recommendations for you to use.

The paper we wrote has been published in Sports Medicine, which is ranked as the number one sports science journal, so you can be confident of its credibility and recommendations.

What is 'lipid profile' and why does the physical activity sector need to know?

'Lipid profile' describes the different levels of lipids in blood, the most common are lowdensity lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol - often known as 'bad cholesterol'; high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, 'the good one'; and triglycerides - a type of fat.

Most people now know that high levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of cardiovascular complications. Swathes of evidence show a direct relationship between chronically elevated cholesterol levels (dyslipidemia) and coronary heart disease.

At the other end of the scale is HDL cholesterol, which transports lipids back to the liver for recycling and disposal. High levels of HDL cholesterol are an indicator of a healthy cardiovascular system.

Lastly, triglycerides in plasma come from fats eaten in foods or other energy sources. Similarly to LDL cholesterol, a high level of triglycerides in plasma is positively and independently associated with cardiovascular disease .

Cholesterol and health

Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood causes fatty material to build up in your artery walls which can lead to numerous health problems.

An analysis of 170,000 participants, shows that reducing LDL cholesterol significantly lowers the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. People with elevated total cholesterol levels are approximately twice as likely to have coronary heart disease as those with optimal levels .

What the evidence shows

The physical activity sector can play a crucial role when it comes to improving people's lipid profile - getting people more physically active has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol and the more exercise people do, the better the response.

Evidence shows that improvements in lipid profile will continue to increase as the amount of exercise increases -and therefore physical activity recommendations should always be seen as an absolute minimum requirement.

It is also clear that higher intensities of physical activity are significantly more effective at lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides than physical activity at a lower intensity. Exercise volume was controlled but intensity was different between test groups - total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and non HDL cholesterol only improved in the high intensity group .

Resistance training has been shown to be effective in improving lipid profile but more repetitions at a lower intensity has a greater effect - moderate intensities of 50% & 70% of 1 repetition maximum is more effective than 90% & 110% when the volume is controlled.

Overall, it is clear that aerobic and resistance training offer an effective strategy in improving people's lipid profiles and therefore help to prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, strokes and heart attacks.

Dr Chris Beedie, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Aberystwyth and Director of the UKARI says, "This study brings together the wealth of information on physical activity and lipids.

"People can use this information as a basis to design programmes that primarily aim to improve lipid profile - cutting the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and strokes."

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