Can resistance exercise enhance HDL cholesterol irrespective of body weight status?

Dr Paul Henning PhD, CSCS, CISSN

The assessment of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) as a marker and mediator of coronary heart disease (CHD) is very well established. High levels of HDL-C appear to be protective against CHD and it’s recommended to enhance your HDL-C to help reduce CHD risk (1). There is also a lot of debate regarding the relative roles of body weight and fitness on the risk of CHD. It’s been shown that strength fitness was inversely associated with risk for metabolic syndrome in men (2). Furthermore, exercise interventions may improve cardiovascular disease risk in the absence of changes in weight.

Recent research

A recent study investigated the redox activity of HDL cross-sectionally in 90 young men categorized into 3 groups on the basis of their body weight status (i.e., normal weight vs. overweight/obese) and resistance training status: overweight untrained; overweight trained; and lean trained (3).

Main findings

  • The rate of dihydrorhodamine was significantly lower in lean resistance trained and overweight resistance trained subjects compared to overweight untrained subjects (3).
  • HDL redox activity was associated with several indices, including strength, body composition, lipids (HDL-C, TG, oxLDL) and steroid hormones (SHBG, testosterone) (3).


The lower dihydrorhodamine levels in both the resistance trained groups suggested that HDL redox function is better in those with higher muscular fitness irrespective of body weight status. Regular resistance training may be associated with improved HDL redox function and be a potential mechanism by which resistance training decreases cardiovascular disease risk. An interesting finding was the inverse relationship between HDL redox activity and steroid hormones. The lower dihydrorhodamine levels (which means more functional HDL) were associated with higher testosterone levels. These findings indicate that HDL exhibits higher antioxidative potential in strength-trained young men irrespective of overweight/obesity status. There are numerous benefits of resistance training (i.e. enhanced muscle mass, bone mass, strength, body composition, and insulin sensitivity, etc.). I think this study is very interesting and clearly demonstrates another benefit of intense resistance training. Resistance training enhances our functional HDL which is cardioprotective and is correlated with higher anabolic status (i.e. testosterone levels). The benefits of intense resistance training keep adding up!!! Stay focused on intense, progressive resistance training and make it the cornerstone of you program!


1. Expert Panel on Detection E, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults. Executive summary of the third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). JAMA 2001;285:2486-2497.

2. Jurca R, Lamonte MJ, Barlow CE, Kampert JB, Church TS, Blair SN. Association of muscular strength with incidence of metabolic syndrome in men. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. Nov 2005;37(11):1849-1855.

3. Roberts CK, Katiraie M, Croymans DM, Yang OO, Kelesidis T. Untrained young men have dysfunctional HDL compared with strength-trained men irrespective of body weight status. Journal of applied physiology. Oct 1 2013;115(7):1043-1049.

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