How does exercise protect blood vessels? Getting regular exercise (30 minutes per day, if your doctor approves) improves endothelial function; which is the thin layer of cells lining the inside of our blood vessels. When we exercise these cells produce nitric oxide which is necessary for keeping our blood vessels healthy. When we have insufficient amounts of nitric oxide it can lead to endothelium dysfunction, which contributes to atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Exercising increases our bodies ability to produce nitric oxide naturally. There are a number of studies that show regular exercise increases endothelial vasodilation for people with high blood pressure and heart disease. Since nitric oxide degrades quickly we must continuously replace it. And, as you can see below, the endothelium is only one cell thick, so it’s important to protect the endothelium layer.
Antioxidants can assist with stabilizing nitric oxide, thus preventing its decay, by neutralizing free radicals. While antioxidants are found in all foods, the best sources are plant-based; like, fruits vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. Additionally, vitamins C and E are important antioxidants. Vitamin C helps our body form connective tissue (skin, bones, cartilage) and produces brain chemicals to help nerves communicate. Vitamin E protects all of our cells from free radicals, which are believed to contribute to aging and various diseases. Others like, polyphenols help reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease; and, glutathione is the most powerful and it detoxifies every cell in the body and is found in asparagus, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, garlic, almonds and walnuts, among others.
“Plant-based nutrition, it turns out, has a mighty beneficial effect on endothelial cells, those metabolic and biochemical dynamos that produce nitric oxide… and nitric oxide, as I have noted, is absolutely essential to vascular health.”Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, Heart Disease Reversal Program, Cleveland Clinic
Several studies have shown the benefits of exercise for both increasing antioxidant activity (inhibiting the breakdown of nitric oxide); and, on protecting endothelial health and nitric oxide production, which can be seen in only ten weeks if exercising three times per week for at least 30 minutes. By combining aerobic activity like walking, swimming, biking; with anaerobic workouts like resistance training you can see optimal results. Whatever exercises you choose, they should be ones you enjoy or can do with a friend or family member so you can continue doing them for the long-term.
As always, please consult your doctor before beginning an exercise or nutrition program and discuss an individualized plan that’s best for you.