The Best Walking Plan to Help Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

Lace-up your shoes: Day one asks for just 15 minutes of your time.

a photo of two friends walking together outside
Photo: Getty Images

Two in five. This could be the number of all-star players on a basketball team, the number of artists in your favorite '90s boy band who could actually sing (sorry!) or how many avocados in your latest supermarket selection ended up being ripe and ready right on time (🙌 a rare feat!).

In this case, two in five, or nearly 40% of all American adults, have high total cholesterol, according to estimates from the CDC. There are rarely any signs or symptoms of elevated cholesterol levels, defined as more than 200 mg/dL—unless the results from a blood test make it clear. So that means many might be walking around with no idea that they are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and even dementia due to high LDL and triglyceride and/or low HDL levels.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all your cells. Since it's a crucial team player in your ability to make vitamin D, hormones and other important substances, your body actually makes all that you need. You can score more via your diet through animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs.

A cholesterol test measures three details:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Commonly known as "bad" cholesterol, which can build up as plaques along the walls of arteries. Less than 100 mg/dL is the goal.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL): Referred to as the "good" cholesterol, which ushers HDL to the liver, where it's eliminated from the body. 60 mg/dL or higher is ideal.
  • Triglycerides: A type of fat in the bloodstream. 150 mg/dL or less is optimal.

Even if you have risk factors for heart disease or a family history of high cholesterol, several lifestyle choices can help keep cholesterol numbers in check. To lower cholesterol naturally, studies suggest that the following healthy habits are your best Rx:

That last detail will be the major focus here since the AHA released in 20221 guidance to doctors about the benefits of prescribing exercise for individuals with mild to moderately high cholesterol. Since we know many EatingWell fans adore a good walk—and since it's one of the most accessible and sustainable modes of physical activity around—we spoke to trainers about why walking can support heart health, plus how to kick things off with a one-month walking plan for healthy cholesterol.

How Walking Benefits Your Cholesterol Levels

"While diet is a huge factor in controlling high cholesterol, simple exercise and lifestyle changes can make a major difference as well," says Paizley Longino, a STRIDE Fitness coach in Lubbock, Texas.

Walking, or any consistent physical activity, has been scientifically proven to have positive effects on cholesterol, total health and well-being. Why? Physical activity stimulates certain enzymes in the body that are necessary to move the "bad cholesterol" (the LDL) from the blood, which can then travel to vessels and become stuck, thus narrowing vessel walls. The cholesterol is converted into bile to aid in the digestion of fats, or it's excreted from the body.

"Walking will improve heart health and reduce disease risk and potential for a stroke now and later in life," adds Erin Nitschke, Ed.D., a Sheridan, Wyoming-based certified personal trainer, exercise science professor, and health coach at the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

A June 2022 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that 12 weeks of regular exercise can make a significant difference. So how much of a shift can you expect? Consistent moderate exercise may help lower LDL by about 5 to 7% and increase HDL by about 6 to 11%.

How Much to Walk for Better Cholesterol Levels

As with any new lifestyle shift, starting slow is your best bet. Even focusing on intentionally creating more opportunities to stand can make a difference, Longino says.

"Purposeful changes such as parking further away from doors, using a standing desk and going on a walk after work instead of immediately sitting when you get home are great ways to start moving your body," she adds. "Keeping your body in an upright position forces it to recruit muscles to keep you standing, which can increase your good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol."

While you'd be working towards a goal of 30 minutes five to six days per week, there's no need to squeeze that all in at once. Try half of the walking time in the morning and half in the evening; even a 2-minute walk has been proven to offer wellness benefits.

If tracking minutes sounds intimidating or isn't your favorite way to measure movement, focus on the number of steps accumulated, Nitschke says. Aim to increase your current daily step count by 10% each week (so if you're at 5,000 steps per day, aim for 5,500 most days next week).

"The point is, move more, sit less. The minutes recommended can be adjusted up or down based on each unique person's health status, level of activity, and comfort level," Nitschke says.

Nitschke estimates that your cholesterol levels will likely improve within 1 to 3 months with a cholesterol-smart menu and the aforementioned heart-healthy habits.

The Best Walking Plan to Help Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

Longino and Nitschke helped us design this four-week program with beginners in mind. You need just 30 minutes max per day as you step things up.

"The first week is focused around finding a routine and building healthy habits," Longino says.

You'll notice that this walking plan alternates strolls with stretching. That's intentional.

"Stretching has also been shown to have positive effects on cholesterol by increasing blood flow and improving circulation," Longino explains. This can also help decrease stress, which, in turn, can reduce cholesterol levels, Nitschke continues.

Each week after, we slightly increase the walking time and sprinkle in a few steps on the stretching days. By the final week of the month, you'll be racking up 135 minutes of walking and 45 minutes of stretching per week, a level that's right around the physical activity recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and AHA.

Keep in mind that the rest days can be shifted as you see fit, and if you're ready to up the ante, consider incorporating an incline (find a hill or crank up the steepness on the treadmill a bit) or try Nordic walking to activate 90% of your muscles at once.

Week 1

  • Monday: 15-minute walk
  • Tuesday: 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Wednesday: 15-minute walk
  • Thursday: 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Friday: 15-minute walk
  • Saturday: 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2

  • Monday: 20-minute walk
  • Tuesday: 10-minute walk, 10 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Wednesday: 20-minute walk
  • Thursday: 10-minute walk, 10 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Friday: 20-minute walk
  • Saturday: 10-minute walk, 10 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 3

  • Monday: 25-minute walk
  • Tuesday: 10-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Wednesday: 25-minute walk
  • Thursday: 10-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Friday: 25-minute walk
  • Saturday: 10-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 4

  • Monday: 30-minute walk
  • Tuesday: 15-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Wednesday: 30-minute walk
  • Thursday: 15-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Friday: 30-minute walk
  • Saturday: 15-minute walk, 15 minutes of stretching, yoga or mobility
  • Sunday: Rest

The Bottom Line

In addition to following this walking plan to help lower cholesterol, try to integrate other heart-healthy habits. Seek out support to stop smoking, if you do, and imbibe in moderation. Focusing on self-care and a healthy diet—including foods that can help prevent high cholesterol—will also go a long way to benefit your total cholesterol numbers.

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