Cardio or Weights for Raising HDL?

Cardio can offer significant health benefits if performed regularly.
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When you exercise -- whether you choose cardiovascular workouts or weightlifting -- you are taking action that may significantly improve your health. From helping you control your weight to assisting in managing your cholesterol levels, many forms of exercise offer a broad array of benefits. Not all exercises promote the same effects, though, so understanding the advantages of cardio and weights can help you choose the right activities to meet your goals.

HDL Cholesterol Basics

The term "cholesterol" is often discussed in simplistic terms and is generally described as bad, but there are two kinds of cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is considered good cholesterol; it helps prevent LDL cholesterol from clogging your arteries, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. Thus, a diet and exercise routine that encourages increased HDL and reduced LDL can improve your quality of life.

Cardio and HDL Cholesterol

Cardiovascular activities, such as running, swimming, cycling and playing sports, can have a significant impact on your HDL cholesterol levels. According to Mayo Clinic, "your best bet for increasing HDL cholesterol is to exercise briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week." The clinic notes that you can increase your HDL cholesterol levels up to 5 percent in two months with this approach.

Weightlifting and HDL

Although muscle gain tends to be most frequently discussed benefit of weightlifting, the activity has other benefits as well. According to research from "Southern Medical Journal," significant increases in HDL cholesterol are possible in as little as eight weeks with three workouts per week. Weightlifting can also reduce your body fat percentage, which also promotes improved cholesterol levels.

Diet and HDL

If you're trying to improve your HDL levels through cardio or weights, it's important to follow a diet that won't counteract your exercise. Diet can play a primary role in your cholesterol levels, but whether the effect is good or bad depends on what you eat. An important consideration is your fat intake; the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping fat intake to 25 to 35 percent of your calories, with less than 7 percent coming from saturated fat. Additionally, drinking in moderation -- two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women and those over 65 -- can also help you maintain good HDL cholesterol levels and make the most of your cardio or weight routine.

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