The great English physician Thomas Sydenham who lived more than 300 years ago observed that ‘a man is as old as his arteries.’ In fact, one might say that your health is only as good as your arteries, since these blood vessels carry vital oxygen-rich blood to all your body’s tissues.
With the pandemic and more people working from home, a sedentary lifestyle has become even more sedentary and that’s bad for arterial health.
What can you do to maintain artery health? Regular exercise. If your lifestyle is a sedentary one and if work-from-home makes it even worse since you don’t even need to commute, then you’d better get started on exercise.
Arteries are complex structures with regulatory functions
Arteries are not just passive conduits for blood to flow. They are in fact, complex structures with crucial regulatory functions, and they are in the front line of the battle for cardiovascular health.
Every artery has three layers in its wall.
The endothelium is the innermost of the artery’s three layers. If all the endothelial cells in your body were placed side by side, they would cover a football field together. This innermost layer produces nitric oxide.
The crucial functions of nitric oxide
Nitric oxide has two crucial functions which helps keep the artery open and healthy. It keeps the arterial lining smooth and slippery, preventing white blood cells and platelets from latching on and causing damaging inflammation and artery-blocking blood clots. In addition, it relaxes the smooth muscle cells of the artery wall’s middle layer, preventing spasms and keeping arteries open.
As we age, our blood vessels become more susceptible to pathologies such as hypertension and atherosclerosis. Arteries may stiffen and thicken. Such changes do not occur to the same extent in all people.
Exercise leads to increased production of nitric oxide
Studies have shown that habitual physical activity and aerobic exercise can slow or prevent the aging of the blood vessels.
Exercise training is known to induce several adaptations in the cardiovascular system, in part, by increases in laminar blood flow. This, in turn, leads to increased production of nitric oxide that is critical to the regulation of vascular responses. A regular exercise program, therefore, has a major effect on the health of your arteries.
Movement means artery health improvement
To find out if exercise can affect arterial aging, scientists in Italy studied four groups of healthy people: young exercisers, young non-exercisers, elderly exercisers, and elderly non-exercisers.
They found that age took a substantial toll on endothelial function and nitric oxide production. But in people who exercised regularly, age had a much smaller effect; endothelial function still declined over the years, but there was a much smaller and more gradual drop in nitric oxide production.
Indeed, exercise helped keep arteries young. Exercise can produce important gains in endothelial function even in people who already have atherosclerosis.
In mice, exercise stimulates the bone marrow to produce endothelial progenitor cells, which enter the bloodstream to replace aging endothelial cells and repair damaged arteries. And in men with coronary artery disease, high levels of endothelial progenitor cells in the blood are associated with protection from cardiac events and death from cardiovascular disease.
And it’s not too late to start. Begin with brisk walking everyday. Start with 1000 steps, and that will be a giant step to good arterial health. Then gradually increase the number of steps.