In my seminar series, I present information concerning the justification for including regular exercise as a means of staying healthy and even feeling younger. I offer examples of many positive effects of exercise that might not be considered by the average person that just wants to be more healthy and fit. One of the improvements that result from regular exercise is arterial flexibility which is, of course, the polar opposite of arterial stiffness. Arterial stiffness occurs as we age but this same stiffness is ameliorated(improved) to a large degree in those who involve themselves in some form of exercise.Â The â€œstiffeningâ€ of arteries (especially the larger ones that are involved in blood flow directly to the heart and lungs) are a critical
and predictive factor in eventual heart disease, stroke and a marked reduction in the ability to lead an active lifestyle.
As I mention in my seminar series, we have a tendency to think of our arteries as simply tubes that carry oxygenated blood to the body but, in reality, they act more like smooth muscle tissue with an added bonus of secreting substances (such as nitric oxide) that keep our arteries more flexible and, therefore, more efficient and capable of delivering much needed oxygen to the cells.Â Regular exercise can assist a great deal in keeping arteries more flexible which, in turn, improves circulation and the delivery of oxygen which, in turn, provides higher levels of energy. If there is one statement that I have received from individuals young and old who have started or re-started an exercise program itâ€™sÂ â€œGee Dr. Paul, I just feel like I have so much more energy!â€ Of course, as I have written before, â€œOxygen equals Energyâ€ and the more oxygen that we can circulate or send to our cells, the more energy that we seem to have. Even small improvements in oxygen delivery as a result of exercise can have a multiplicative effect on energy levels and improved body functions.
For those who have been inactive for a period of timeâ€”weeks, months or even yearsâ€”do not despair. Studies have shown that even a regular exercise plan that is no more rigorous than brisk walking four to six times per week for about 30 to 40 minutes per day can show improvements in arterial stiffness within about three months. Of course, establishing and CONTINUING a program of regular exercise can and will make these improvements even better and will sustain them over time. Most individuals can participate in such a program but, as always, see your doctor before beginning any fitness program if you have been sedentary for an extended period of time. Additionally, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your level of exercise over time especially if you are over the age of 35, are overweight and/or obese or have a familial or personal history of cardiovascular disease.
In any case, the effects of even moderate forms of exercise such as walking are wide-reaching. Moreover, if an exercise program (of whatever type) is maintained over time, the benefits seem to multiply. For example, muscles become stronger (especially the muscle that we call the heart). The skeletal system is also challenged by regular exercise (such as walking and strength training) which prevents or reduces the loss of bone cells and related bone â€œintegrityâ€ or structure. Additional blood flow generated by exercise assists in the maintenance and improved performance of many other internal organs (such as the liver and kidneys) whose hormonal balance is critical to our general health. All of these factors, however, are related to arterial stiffness in that healthier and more flexible arteries are the delivery mechanism for the critical oxygen that allows our entire body to perform at peak levels and, therefore, reduce the incidence of a plethora of chronic diseases. The old saw is â€œIf you donâ€™t use it, you lose it!â€ and that goes for your arteries as well.Â Improved arterial flexibility will improve (reduce) your resting AND exercise heart rate and will likely produce that little bit of additional energy that may have been missing in your life. Flexibility isnâ€™t just for your joints!
Iâ€™m Dr. Paul Kennedy and thatâ€™s the â€œBe Fit, Stay Fitâ€ Topic of the Month for February, 2011. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it!