When it comes to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, hitting the gym beats losing weight through other means, new research shows.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found maintaining a "healthy" weight isn't as important for healthy cholesterol function as being active by regularly performing strength training.
Researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles noted high levels of "good" cholesterol — high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — are protective against heart disease. Unlike "bad" cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which clogs blood vessels with fat — HDL helps clear cholesterol from the body.
But it even normal levels of HDL might not be enough, with several recent studies suggesting many cases of heart disease occur in people with such levels.
Lead researcher Christian K. Roberts and his colleagues at UCLA sought to determine whether HDL in healthy men who weight trained regularly behaved in a healthier way than HDL in sedentary men.
The researchers worked with 90 men between the ages of 18 and 30 who were divided into three groups: lean men who weight trained at least four times each week; overweight men who also weight trained at least four times each week; and overweight men who had no structured exercise regimen.
They found that the HDL in men who didn't exercise didn't function as well as the HDL in those who weight trained. The results held true even among the overweight men who exercised, suggesting that maintaining a "healthy" weight isn't as important for healthy cholesterol function as being active by regularly performing strength training.
In fact, the researchers found aregular weight-lifting program — regardless of a man's weight —had a similar effectiveness as taking an antioxidant. The upshot: regular weight training might improve HDL function and protect against heart disease, even in those who remain overweight.
"The role of obesity in the risk of coronary heart disease may indeed be largely accounted for by differences in fitness," the researchers said.
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