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HDL and exercise

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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  • Leon & Sanchez (1) have shown that aerobic exercise increased HDL-cholesterol 4-5%
  • most of the studies involving exercise and effects on HDL have an exercise frequency of 3-5 times a week and 30 min or more of exercise per session at moderate to strenuous intensity
  • there is limited evidence that a higher exercise intensity will give a greater HDL-cholesterol response than moderate or light intensity
    • the threshold to affect lipids during weekly training seems to be an exercise energy expenditure of 1200-1500 kcal and the minimum length of training should be 12 weeks (1)
  • a finding in the 6 month study of 111 overweight men and women of Krauss (2) suggests that energy expenditure is crucial and more important than exercise intensity, and the most marked effects were observed at an energy expenditure of 2000 kcal with strenuous intensity
  • length of training period might also be very important especially in postmenopausal women
    • in the study of King et al. (1995), 1 year of moderate training in postmenopausal women was not enough, but 2 years showed statistically significant lipid improvements (King et al., 1995)
  • according to Leon & Sanchez (1), baseline lipid levels strongly predict response to exercise: the lower the baseline HDL-cholesterol, the higher the response to exercise
  • genetic as well as lifestyle factors can influence the levels of HDL cholesterol
    • one of the associated genetic factors is Taq 1B polymorphism in intron 1 of cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) gene
      • plasma CETP and HDL cholesterol levels were reported in many studies to vary with Taq 1B genotype, the B1B1, B1B2, and B2B2 genotypes being associated with lowest to highest levels of HDL cholesterol and highest to lowest levels of CETP, respectively
        • a study (4) has demonstrated a physical activity-associated rise in HDL cholesterol in male subjects - asymptomatic or with CAD, especiallly in those with B1B1 genotype
        • the mechanism is not clear, but the net effect of (i) an exercise-associated overall rise in HDL cholesterol in males and (ii) lowest levels of HDL cholesterol in B1B1 relative to B1B2 or B2B2 sedentary males may explain the exercise-associated increase of HDL cholesterol occurring maximally in B1B1 males - however it is not clear whether this is a chance occurrence or a true interaction


  1. Leon AS, Sanchez OA. Response of blood lipids to exercise training alone or combined with dietary intervention. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001: 33 (6 Suppl): S502-S515
  2. Krauss WE, Houmard JA, Duscha BD, Knetzger KJ, Wharton MB, McCartney JS, Bales CW, Hened RD, Samsa GP, Otvos JD, Kulkarni KR, Slentz CA. Effects of the amount and intensity of exercise on plasma lipoproteins. N Engl J Med 2002: 347 (19): 1483-1524.
  3. King AC, Haskell WL, Taylor CB, Young DR, Oka RK, Stefanick ML. Long-term effects of varying intensities and formats of physical activity on participation rates, fitness, and lipoproteins in men and women aged 50 to 65 years. Circulation 1995: 91: 2596-2604.
  4. Mukherjee, M & Shetty, KR (2004) Variations in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in relation to physical activity and Taq 1B polymorphism of the cholesteryl ester transfer protein gene. Clinical Genetics 65 (5), 412-418.

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