I’m sure at one point or another in your life you’ve heard the rule that you should “exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” It might have also been drilled into you that your daily workout doesn’t have to be particularly vigorous, but just enough to get your heart pumping. But why is this relevant to your cardiovascular health?
1. Exercise lowers blood pressure
Studies have shown that endurance training can lower blood pressure in people struggling with high blood pressure (HBP). Untreated, HBP can result in irreparable damage to your heart, coronary arteries, and other various organs and bodily functions. For example, over an extended period of time, HBP can create tears along artery walls. The scar tissue created to repair the tear is highly susceptible to harboring cholesterol. This leads to the hardening and narrowing of arterial walls, which eventually results in diseased organs because they are not receiving nutrients and oxygen.
In many ways our cardiovascular system is no different than household plumbing. Consider an artery under the strain of HBP as an old pipe that has suffered years of neglect and grimy build up. As the years go by, the blood vessels naturally stiffen and accumulate plaque, which then narrows the passage and necessitates more and more pressure to maintain normal blood flow.
Exercise is the “Drano” to your internal plumbing issues. Just like how a liquid clog remover can restore the original diameter of an old pipe and increase fluid flow, exercise accomplishes the same thing in your blood vessels. When you exercise, blood flows faster through the arteries. The increased speed of blood triggers the production of nitric oxide, a gas-like substance. Nitric oxide expands and opens up blood vessels to reduce the resistance to blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure. However, to reap the full benefits of exercise, you will need to workout frequently to keep the nitric oxide levels high.
2. Exercise reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol and increases the amount of HDL cholesterol
What is the difference between HDL and LDL? Both are complex particles that carry lipids, or cholesterol, throughout the body during fat digestion. However, while HDL is able to safely carry cholesterol to the liver for expulsion, LDL often deposits cholesterol in artery walls and causes narrowing of blood vessels. This is why LDL is often called the “bad” cholesterol, because a lot of it could lead to dire health conditions such as strokes. Exercise combats this phenomenon by increasing the amount of HDL your body produces. Although the precise mechanism for which exercise increases HDL levels in the body is unknown, there is a confirmed positive relationship between exercise and HDL levels.
3. Exercise improves your heart’s performance in the long run
Working out naturally results in your left ventricle becoming more muscular. The left ventricle is the chamber in your heart responsible for pushing blood out to your organs. With the increased muscle tone, the left ventricle can push out more blood per beat and does not require as many beats to circulate blood throughout your body. This becomes increasingly important with old age as the less strain your heart is under, the less likely you will suffer from strokes and other fatal cardiovascular conditions.
Exercise not only builds your heart’s muscle mass, it also keeps your heart young. People used to think that age-related cardiovascular muscle deterioration was unavoidable. However, it has now been shown that it’s not an age-related issue, but a lifestyle problem. Non-active or sedentary way of living causes many health issues for people, most notably obesity.
Over time a sedentary lifestyle can result in abnormalities in how the heart fills with blood, leading to irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia). This condition can aid with heart failure, especially in people suffering from hardened arteries and other cardiovascular diseases.You can easily prevent this by working out regularly throughout your life. By doing so, your heart won’t be the only muscle in your body benefiting from your active lifestyle.
These are just three major ways that exercise improves your cardiac health. It’s up to you what your next step will be in terms of your health. Whatever you choose for your workout, just know that your heart will be thankful for it every step, jump, or shimmy of the way!
Asal Homayouni is a Director of Operations for the biomedical publication Morning Sign Out. She graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2014 with a degree in Integrative Biology, with an emphasis in human biology and health sciences, and a minor in History. She enjoys writing about health-related topics including innovations in medical technology, as well as advances in the fields of immunology, oncology, and primary care.
Main Photo Credit: photoflow/Shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Stas Tolstnev/Shutterstock.com.