treadmillWorried about your cholesterol? New health research finds that the benefits of diet and exercise may go beyond weight loss and muscle tone improvement. Working out and eating right may actually help raise the production of “good” cholesterol.

Researchers at the Methodist Hospital of Houston came up with that surprising result while studying overweight people with type 2 diabetes who were participating in a clinical trial to see who increased physical activity and dieting affected their risk for cardiovascular disease.

The group achieved significant improvement in the expected areas: fat reduction, more optimal blood sugar levels.

In addition, their HDL cholesterol (known as the “good” cholesterol) increased nearly 10 percent. HDL has been shown to play a role in fat burning and sugar storage. (Levels of so-called “bad” or LDL cholesterol did not change.)

The researchers believe intensive exercise and dieting can help train fat cells to produce a hormone that encourages the liver to boost production of HDL.

"What we're learning is that even overweight people who are physically active and eating a healthy diet are getting benefits from the lifestyle change," principal investigator Dr. Christie Ballantyne, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, part of the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center at The Methodist Hospital in Houston.

"When you exercise and diet, you're improving the function of your adipose tissue, your heart and vascular systems, and even muscle performance. You're getting a lot of benefits that you may not see by just looking at the weight on a scale," he added.

The study appears in Journal of Lipid Research.