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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. It brings it back to the liver, where the liver gets rid of it.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein)

LDL sticks to the walls of arteries and causes 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 raise your levels of LDL. These foods are high in saturated fats. Too much of these fats contribute to heart disease.

Learn about high cholesterol

How physical activity can help

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

Physical activity also helps you:

  • reduce the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers
  • maintain a healthy weight

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. Start slowly with 10 minutes, and build up to 30 minutes per day.

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 medicine.

Keep taking any medicine you are on.

What is moderate-intensity activity?

You will know an activity is moderate intensity when:

  • your heart rate is raised
  • you're breathing faster but still able to talk
  • you're sweating slightly
  • you're feeling warmer

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

Always check with your GP or physiotherapist before starting a new strength programme.

Strength exercises

Flexibility exercises

HSE exercise videos

These videos were designed by HSE physiotherapists for people with chronic conditions.

Try these 10-minute exercise videos on YouTube:

45-minute exercise videos on YouTube:

Page last reviewed: 30 January 2023
Next review due: 30 January 2026