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Open Access Research article

Efficacy of aerobic exercise and a prudent diet for improving selected lipids and lipoproteins in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

George A Kelley1*, Kristi S Kelley1, Susan Roberts2 and William Haskell3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Medicine, West Virginia University, PO Box 9190, Morgantown, WV 26506-9190, USA

2 Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA

3 Prevention Research Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA

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BMC Medicine 2011, 9:74  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-74

Published: 15 June 2011



Studies addressing the effects of aerobic exercise and a prudent diet on lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in adults have reached conflicting conclusions. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of aerobic exercise combined with a prudent diet on lipid and lipoprotein concentrations in adults.


Studies were located by searching nine electronic databases, cross-referencing, and expert review. Two independent reviewers selected studies that met the following criteria: (1) randomized controlled trials, (2) aerobic exercise combined with diet recommendations (saturated/trans fat intake less than 10% of total calories and cholesterol less than 300 mg/day and/or fiber intake ≥25 g/day in women and ≥35 grams per day in men), (3) intervention ≥4 weeks, (4) humans ≥18 years of age, (5) published studies, including dissertations and Master's theses, (6) studies published in any language, (7) studies published between January 1, 1955 and May 1, 2009, (8) assessment of one or more of the following lipid and lipoprotein concentrations: total cholesterol (TC), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), ratio of TC to HDL-C, non-HDL-C, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and triglycerides (TG). Two reviewers independently extracted all data. Random-effects models that account for heterogeneity and 95% confidence intervals were used to pool findings.


Of the 1,401 citations reviewed, six studies representing 16 groups (8 intervention, 8 control) and up to 559 men and women (282 intervention, 277 control) met the criteria for analysis. Statistically significant intervention minus control reductions were found for TC (-15.5 mg/dl, 95% CI, -20.3 to -10.7), TC:HDL-C (-0.4 mg/dl, 95% CI, -0.7 to -0.2), LDL-C (-9.2 mg/dl, 95% CI, -12.7 to -5.8) and TG (-10.6 mg/dl, 95% CI, -17.2 to -4.0) but not HDL-C (-0.5 mg/dl, 95% CI, -4.0 to 3.1). Changes were equivalent to reductions of 7.5%, 6.6%, 7.2% and 18.2% respectively, for TC, TC:HDL-C, LDL-C and TG. Because of missing variance statistics, non-HDL-C was excluded.


Aerobic exercise combined with a prudent diet is highly efficacious for improving TC, TC:HDL-C, LDL-C and TG, but not HDL-C concentrations, in adults. However, additional studies are needed, including effectiveness studies using intention-to-treat analysis.