Cholesterol and physical activity

Cholesterol is a type of fat that is made in the body by the liver. Your body needs a certain level of cholesterol to work properly.

There are 2 main types of cholesterol.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein)

HDL cleans up cholesterol left behind in the arteries and brings it back to the liver where the liver gets rid of it.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein)

LDL sticks to the walls of arteries causing plaque. Plaque can build up causing arteries to narrow and sometimes they get blocked. This causes heart disease (such as atherosclerosis, angina or heart attack). Foods such as meat and dairy products raise your levels of LDL. These foods are high in saturated fats. Too much of these fats contribute to heart disease.

How physical activity can help

Being physically active increases the level of HDL in your body. As more of the cholesterol in your body is changed to HDL, your risk of heart disease reduces.

Physical activity helps reduce the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It also helps you achieve a healthy weight.

Getting started

Check with your GP before you start becoming more active. They can help you set realistic goals that take into account your level of fitness, symptoms and medication.

Continue to take any prescribed medication you are on.

To get the most benefits, you should be physically active at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day on 5 days a week.

You'll know it's moderate activity if it:

  • makes you breathe faster
  • raises your heart rate
  • makes you feel warmer

You should also include muscle-strengthening, flexibility and bone-strengthening exercises 3 times a week.

HSE exercise videos

Try our exercise videos at home

Page last reviewed: 30 January 2019
Next review due: 30 January 2022