Researchers from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health have completed a study reviewing the effects of exercise on the functionality of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). The paper was published in Current Opinion in Lipidology, and the study was led by assistant professor of Exercise Science Mark Sarzynski and two of his doctoral students.
Previous studies have shown that low HDL-cholesterol levels are a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease risk and can be improved with regular exercise. However, raising HDL-C levels pharmacologically has not shown convincing clinical benefits. Thus, research has recently focused on identifying therapies that improve HDL function, with exercise representing such a potential therapy. The authors conducted this review to summarize the effects of exercise interventions on HDL function.
In their review, the researchers examined studies investigating the effects of exercise and lifestyle interventions on the primary atheroprotective functions of HDL. In particular, they looked at cholesterol efflux, antioxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties. They also discuss differences in study design, study population, and assays to aid in the interpretation of the reviewed studies.
The authors found mixed evidence that regular aerobic exercise improves cholesterol efflux capacity, with recent research from the author’s lab suggesting an exercise dose threshold needs to be exceeded to produce beneficial effects. There is preliminary evidence that exercise improves the antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of HDL.
Although exercise represents a potential therapeutic approach to improve HDL function, the heterogeneity and/or lack of findings warrants more and larger studies to determine what HDL function(s) are most responsive to regular exercise and what dose of exercise elicits the greatest improvements in HDL functionality.