Running is good for your heart in more ways than one. Running will help you keep off the pounds, and it has positive effects on your cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. To get a bigger boost in your HDL levels, choose leaner proteins, like fish and poultry, eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid foods with saturated and trans fats.
HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is the “good” cholesterol that can counteract the bad cholesterol, or LDL, in your blood. Composed primarily of protein with a small amount of fat, HDL helps move cholesterol out of your body. While the LDL cholesterol -- or low-density lipoprotein -- can clog arteries, HDL helps keep arteries clear and can lower your risk of heart disease. You should aim for an HDL cholesterol level of 60 milligrams per deciliter or above, according to MayoClinic.com.
One of the best ways to raise your HDL levels is through aerobic activity like running. If you exercise regularly -- at least 30 minutes five days a week -- you’ll see those numbers rise. MayoClinic.com reports that healthy sedentary adults can raise their HDL cholesterol by about 5 percent within two months of starting an exercise program. Your HDL levels may be lower if you are packing a few extra pounds. Running can help you lose weight and raise those levels.
While regular exercise like running can raise your HDL cholesterol, the benefits may vary based on your current levels. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that new male runners who started with a relatively high HDL cholesterol level saw a bigger increase after a year of running than new runners who started with a relatively low level. Another study published by "Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology" -- a journal of the American Heart Association -- found similar results. The study concluded aerobic exercise contributed to just a modest increase in HDL cholesterol levels for those people who started with a low HDL level.
Intensity and Duration
While results may vary based on your starting levels of HDL, the intensity and duration of your runs may give you a bigger boost. The researchers in the Berkeley study noted that the men who started with higher HDL cholesterol levels ran more and lost more weight, which could have influenced the increase in HDL. A study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" found that women who ran more than the recommended guidelines saw substantial benefits in HDL levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends walking 2 miles most days of the week, the equivalent of 8 to 12 kilometers a week. But women who ran saw an increase for each additional kilometer each week.
- American Heart Association: Guidelines for Physical Activity
- MayoClinic.com: Cholesterol Levels: What Numbers Should You Aim For?
- Sanford Health: High Cholesterol: Raising Your HDL Level
- HDL Cholesterol: How to Boost Your ‘Good’ Cholesterol
- American Heart Association: Does Exercise Increase HDL Cholesterol in Those Who Need It the Most?
- New England Journal of Medicine: High-density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and Other Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease in Female Runners
Lucy D'Berry has been a writer for nearly 30 years, specializing in nutrition and health issues, as well as in education and government. She has written for daily newspapers and edits a national magazine. She has earned both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in the communications field.