Concerned about your cholesterol? Let’s talk walking in women

The Bottom Line

  • Cholesterol and triglycerides are types of lipids (a.k.a. fat or fat-like substances) in our blood. Abnormal lipid levels can increase our risk for heart disease.
  • Walking, without additional diet or weight-loss interventions, can lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol in women living with overweight or obesity.
  • Walking is a generally safe and accessible activity. Consider lacing up your sneakers and incorporating walking into your daily routine.

Have you ever been told to “walk it off”? You’re not alone! Be it after stubbing a toe or expressing feeling out of sorts, friends and family often times suggest going for a walk will make us feel better. But it’s not just our friends and family who have walking on the brain or should I say feet...? Walking, as a form of exercise, is of great interest to researchers, in addition to being commonly prescribed by health care professionals. And it’s easy to understand why.

Aside from being a generally safe and accessible activity, walking’s list of benefits is impressive (1-6). Previously inactive older adults, stroke survivors, and people with chronic pain are some of the populations that have been shown to reap the rewards of walking, which include reductions in certain risk factors for heart disease—such as blood pressure, body mass index, and body weight, improvements to walking speed and distance, and the betterment of physical functioning, respectively (3-6). As more research is conducted, this list may continue to expand, making the case for incorporating walking into one’s daily life even more important.

A recent systematic review on the effects of walking on lipid levels in women living with overweight or obesity adds more evidence to the conversation (1). You may be wondering: 1) what lipids are, 2) why their levels are important, and 3) why the focus is on women, and specifically those living with overweight or obesity. To start, lipids are types of fat or fat-like substances found in our blood, such as triglycerides and cholesterol. When lipid levels are abnormal (either too high or too low), our risk for heart disease—a leading cause of death—increases (7;8). Those who carry excess weight are at a greater risk of having abnormal lipid levels (such as high cholesterol), and women are especially vulnerable because they are more likely to die from their first heart attack and develop heart failure after their first heart-related event (1;9-11).

So, can an activity as simple as walking help women keep their lipid levels in check?

What the research tells us

The review, which excludes women taking lipid-lowering drugs—such as statins—found a few positive results.

First, walking can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly known as “bad” cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol in women living with overweight or obesity. What’s more, the effects are seen without additional diet or weight-loss interventions. Unfortunately, walking doesn’t appear to have a significant influence on high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol, or triglyceride levels.

It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the studies within the review were inline with physical activity guidelines that recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous intensity exercise (1). Although the review found no difference between moderate walking and vigorous walking on lipid levels, the authors did recommend that those living with obesity engage in vigorous walking based on results of previous research around leisure-time physical activities in this population (1;12).

Overall, walking appears to be a safe and effective cholesterol lowering strategy, so lace up your comfiest sneakers and give it a go. However, first, consult with your health care team to develop a plan to add walking to your daily routine that works for you.

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Author Details


  1. Ballard AM, Davis A, Wong B, et al. The effects of exclusive walking on lipids and lipoproteins in women with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Health Promot. 2022; 36:328-39. doi: 10.1177/08901171211048135.
  2. American Heart Association. Why is walking the most popular form of exercise? [Internet] 2020. [cited March 2021]. Available from
  3. Murtagh EM, Michols L, Mohammed MA, et al. The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Prev Med. 2015; 72:34-43. doi: 10.1016/j.ypnmed.2014.12.041.
  4. Lee LL, Mulvaney CA, Wong YK, et al. Walking for hypertension. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2021; 2:CD008823. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008823.pub2.
  5. Peurala SH, Karttunen AH, Sjogren T, et al. Evidence for the effectiveness of walking training on walking and self-care after stroke: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Rehabil Med. 2014; 46(5):387-399. doi: 10.2340/16501977-1805.
  6. O’Connor SR, Tully MA, Ryan B, et al. Walking exercise for chronic musculoskeletal pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2015; 96:724-734. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.12.003.
  7. Hartley L, May MD, Loveman E, et al. Dietary fibre for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016; (1):CD011472. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011472.pub2.
  8. National Health Service. Atherosclerosis. [Internet] 2019. [cited March 2021]. Available from   
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult obesity causes & consequences. [Internet] 2020. [cited March 2021]. Available from
  10. Saydah S, Bullard KM, Cheng Y, et al. Trends in cardiovascular disease risk factors by obesity level in adults in the United States, NHANES 1999-2010. Obesity. 2014; 22(8):1888-1895. doi: 10.1002/oby.20761.
  11. Cífková R, Krajčoviechová A. Dyslipidemia and cardiovascular disease in women. Curr Cardiol Rep. 2015; 17(7):609. doi: 10.1007/s11886-015-0609-5.
  12. O'Donovan G, Stamatakis E, Stensel DJ, et al. The importance of vigorous-intensity leisure-time physical activity in reducing cardiovascular disease mortality risk in the obese. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018; 93(8):1096-1103. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.01.016.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.