Background: Aerobic exercise is believed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease partially through increasing serum levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). However, this effect varies considerably among exercise intervention studies.
Methods: Electronic database searches of MEDLINE (1966-2005) for randomized controlled trials that examined the effect of exercise training on HDL-C level.
Results: Twenty-five articles were included. Mean net change in HDL-C level was statistically significant but modest (2.53 mg/dL [0.065 mmol/L]; P<.001). Minimal weekly exercise volume for increasing HDL-C level was estimated to be 900 kcal of energy expenditure per week or 120 minutes of exercise per week. Univariate regression analysis indicated that every 10-minute prolongation of exercise per session was associated with an approximately 1.4-mg/dL (0.036-mmol/L) increase in HDL-C level. In contrast, there was no significant association between exercise frequency or intensity. Multiple meta-regression analyses demonstrated that subjects with a body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) less than 28 and total cholesterol level of 220 mg/dL [5.7 mmol/L] or more experienced an approximately 2.1-mg/dL (0.054-mmol/L) larger increase in HDL-C level than those with a body mass index of 28 or more and total cholesterol level less than 220 mg/dL (5.7 mmol/L).
Conclusions: Regular aerobic exercise modestly increases HDL-C level. There appears to exist a minimum exercise volume for a significant increase in HDL-C level. Exercise duration per session was the most important element of an exercise prescription. Exercise was more effective in subjects with initially high total cholesterol levels or low body mass index.