Purpose: Dose-response relationships between exercise training volume and blood lipid changes suggest that exercise can favorably alter blood lipids at low training volumes, although the effects may not be observable until certain exercise thresholds are met.
Methods and results: Plasma triglyceride reductions are often observed after exercise training regimens requiring energy expenditures similar to those characterized to increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). Thresholds established from cross-sectional and longitudinal exercise training studies indicate that 15 to 20 miles/week of brisk walking or jogging, which elicit between 1,200 to 2,200 kcals of energy expenditure per week, is associated with triglyceride reductions of 5 to 38 mg/dL and HDL-C increases of 2 to 8 mg/dL. Exercise training seldom alters total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) unless dietary fat intake is reduced and body weight loss is associated with the exercise training program, or both. Thus, for most individuals, the positive effects of regular exercise are exerted on blood lipids at low training volumes and accrue so that noticeable differences frequently occur with energy expenditures of 1,200 to 2,200 kcals/week.
Conclusions: It appears that weekly exercise caloric expenditures that meet or exceed the higher end of this range are more likely to produce the desired lipid changes. Regarding hyperlipidemic disorders, the primary means for intervention is pharmacologic, whereas diet modification, weight loss, and exercise, although important, are viewed as adjunctive therapies. Because much is known about the exercise training-induced plasma lipid and lipoprotein modifications as well as the mechanisms responsible for these changes, rehabilitation professionals can better develop a comprehensive medical management plan that optimizes pharmacologic, reduced dietary fat intake, weight loss, and exercise interventions.