Has your doctor ever told you that your triglycerides are too high? Elevated triglycerides take a back seat in people’s minds to the other type of blood fat we routinely follow through laboratory testing, cholesterol. Current recommendations are that if you’re an adult over the age of 20, you should check your triglycerides and cholesterol level at least every 5 years. Fortunately, it’s as simple as getting a blood test. Often, doctors tell patients to fast for at least 12 hours before drawing blood for lipid testing. However, some research suggests that a non-fasting triglyceride level may be a better indicator of cardiovascular risk. Why is lowering triglycerides important for your health?
Cholesterol vs. Triglycerides: What’s the Difference?
Cholesterol is carried on two types of lipoprotein carries, LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol. You can get triglycerides from food and your liver also makes these fats. Triglycerides that your liver makes circulate in the bloodstream on a type of carrier called VLDL. After a meal, the triglycerides you take in attach to carriers called chylomicrons on which they travel through the bloodstream. As they move through the body, fat tissue takes up the triglycerides and stores them. We won’t delve too deeply into the specifics of how triglycerides circulate in the body. However, it’s just as important to follow your triglycerides as it is to monitor your HDL and LDL-cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are one of the numbers you see when your doctor checks a lipid profile.
Why should you know your triglyceride level? Elevated blood triglycerides are linked with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, high triglycerides are often a marker of other lipid problems. For example, people with high triglycerides are more likely to have small, dense LDL-cholesterol particles, the type linked with cardiovascular disease as well as low levels of HDL-cholesterol, the “good” kind correlated with a lower risk of heart disease. Plus, circulating triglycerides are often high in people who have insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.
Lowering Triglycerides: Lifestyle Changes
Lifestyle changes can often lower high triglycerides, but the degree to which lifestyle alone brings them down varies with the individual. Some people with a very high triglyceride level may need medications. Lifestyle habits that help include:
· Limiting alcohol consumption
· Eliminating refined carbohydrates and added sugar
· Adding more omega-3s to your diet from sources like fish
· Consuming more fiber-rich, non-starchy vegetables
· Lose weight if you’re overweight
The Role of Exercise
Studies show that aerobic exercise can lower high triglycerides levels, but what type is best? Aerobic exercise is more effective than resistance training at bringing down elevated triglycerides. You might also wonder what exercise intensity is best – moderate-intensity exercise or high-intensity workouts like HIIT training.
Based on some research, high-intensity interval training has the edge. In one study, participants did moderate-intensity exercise consisting of cycling at 50% of aerobic capacity for 60 minutes. Another group did high-intensity training. It consisted of alternating 2-minute intervals of exercise at 90% of aerobic capacity followed by 2 minutes of recovery exercise at 25% of aerobic capacity.
The results? High-intensity exercise was more effective than continuous, moderate-intensity training for lowering the rise in triglycerides after a meal and for maximizing post-meal fat oxidation. So, ramping up the intensity of your workouts on some occasions may give you an edge in bringing down your triglycerides.
Exercise and Triglycerides: Another Lowering Triglycerides Tip
When you exercise counts too. Although exercising any time will help reduce elevated triglycerides over time, exercising after a meal has an additional advantage. Even walking and light resistance training lowers the rise in triglycerides you get after eating a fatty meal. One study found that when participants moved their body after a meal even with light exercise, their triglycerides were 72% lower than when they didn’t exercise. Reducing the bump up in triglycerides after eating may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. So, your best bet after a meal is a short walk or other light exercise. With regard to timing, try to walk or exercise lightly within an hour of a meal, but include some high-intensity interval training in your routine as well. It’s probably best not to do an intense workout right after a meal!
Watch What You Eat Too
Plasma triglycerides are impacted by what you eat too. Cutting back on refined carbs and sugar is one of the strongest lifestyle changes you can make from a dietary standpoint to lower your triglyceride level. Studies showing that lower carbohydrates diets bring down triglyceride levels after a meal and fasting triglycerides. In fact, research shows that eating a high-carbohydrate meal after exercise reduces the desired drop in triglycerides you get after a workout. The real enemy is refined carbohydrates and foods that contain sugar.
Fat isn’t the enemy, but make sure you’re putting healthy fat sources on your plate. Switching saturated fats for monounsaturated fats and fats rich in omega-3s has triglyceride-lowering benefits. Olive oil, avocados, nuts, and wild-caught fish all contain heart-healthy fats that help lower triglycerides. Steer clear of alcohol as studies show alcohol can significantly boost plasma triglycerides. The impact of alcohol on triglycerides is even more pronounced if you consume alcohol with a meal high in saturated fat.
The Bottom Line
Exercise helps lower triglycerides and more intense workouts are more effective. However, working out less intensely or taking a walk after a meal also helps bring the triglycerides in your bloodstream down. What’s more, walking after eating helps lower blood glucose as well, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of diet. Skip the processed carbs and choose more monounsaturated and omega-3 rich fats in place of saturated fat. What you eat and how much you move your body makes a difference.
· WebMD. “Will Exercise Really Lower Triglycerides?”
· LiveScience.com. “After-Meal Exercise May Reduce Heart Disease Risk”
· Runner’s World. “Does Exercise Intensity Affect Triglyceride Levels?”
· Journal of Applied Psychology. Volume 114Issue 6. March 2013. Pages 792-800.
· International Journal of Vascular Medicine. Volume 2012, Article ID 862504, 4 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/862504.
· WebMD. “How often should you have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked?”