Researchers found that the cholesterol might actually be beneficial for the body. It is a good news for people who're trying really hard to control their high cholesterol levels.
The study, led by Steven Riechman, assistant professor of health and kinesiology, and Simon Sheather, head of the Department of Statistics at Texas A&M University, reviewed 55 men and women, ages 60-69, who were healthy non-smokers and were able to perform exercise testing and training.
In the study, the volunteers performed several exercises, including stretching, stationary bike riding and vigorous weight lifting for three days a week, and the total study session was for 12 weeks.
Those who had to miss one or more sessions all conducted make-up sessions so that by the study's end, the entire group had engaged in uniform activities. Also, all participants consumed similar meals.
The results of the study showed that there was a significant association of dietary cholesterol and change in strength. In general, those with higher cholesterol intake also had the highest muscle strength gain.
Riechman said cholesterol circulating in the blood also appeared to have contributed to greater muscle gain in the participants.
'We were not expecting to get these kind of results,' Riechman said.
'We need further research in this area, but what we found could really make us look differently at cholesterol, especially as it relates to a vigorous workout. One possible explanation is through cholesterol's important role in the inflammation process.
'As you exercise, your muscles can become sore because they are rebuilding muscle mass. More cholesterol may result in a more robust inflammatory response. We know that inflammation in some areas, such as near the heart, is not good, but for building muscles it may be beneficial, and cholesterol appears to aid in this process,' he added.
Riechman said that subjects who were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs while participating in the study showed lower muscle gain totals than those who were not.
'Needless to say, these findings caught us totally off guard. From here, we need to look at a number of questions, such as what exactly happens to cholesterol while you are exercising? What role does protein intake have in all of this? What we really need to do is to trace cholesterol the moment it goes into the muscles,' he added.
Riechman said that combined with exercise, cholesterol appears to play a role in contributing to muscle gain, the key being working out - it doesn't mean sitting in front of a television all day thinking you don't have to worry about cholesterol levels.
'Our findings show that the restricting of cholesterol - while in the process of exercising - appears to affect building muscle mass in a negative manner. If it's true, as our findings suggest, that cholesterol may play a key role in muscle repair, we need to know exactly how that happens. And because cholesterol is negatively associated with cardiovascular health, we need further study in this area. It shows that there is still a lot about cholesterol that we don't know,' he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Gerontology.