Through time and neglect (such as smoking and not exercising, for example), your arteries can become clogged, brittle and otherwise damaged. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic, which help them to push blood to and from the heart. However, over time, the walls in your arteries can become rigid and inflexible, which is known as hardening of the arteries.
Arteriosclerosis occurs when arteries become thick and stiff, which can restrict blood flow to your organs and tissues.
Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of plaques — such as fats, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in and on your artery walls — which can also restrict blood flow. These plaques can trigger blood clots. Consequently, atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury inside an artery, which can be caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes and smoking. Blood cells and plaques can lump together at the injury site, building up inside the artery. This causes the arteries to harden and narrow, restricting blood flow.
The good news is that atherosclerosis is treatable and may even be preventable. Exercise, a healthy diet and weight management can all treat atherosclerosis and help prevent it. Of course, exercise is known to aid weight loss, but it has numerous additional benefits for the heart and arteries, as well.
As you age, your arteries become stiffer, stickier and narrower. But scientists in Italy found that in people who exercised regularly, age had a much smaller effect on their arteries.
Exercise keeps arteries healthy by lowering bad cholesterol and boosting good cholesterol. Regular low or moderate-intensity exercise can reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and fat in your blood and arteries. More intense levels of exercise can raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which protects your heart.
Exercise also reduces other risk factors for atherosclerosis and blood clots, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and stress.
Additionally, exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation in the arteries and to help keep blood vessels flexible and open. Flexible arteries are elastic and able to stretch, allowing more blood to flow when it’s needed.
This enables your body to maintain its blood pressure level at normal levels, even during exercise or stressful events, which eases the pressure on your cardiovascular system.
The American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise almost every day to make sure that your body remains healthy.
Find exercises that you enjoy and then commit to a long term, regular program. Whatever you do, just get in motion and stay in motion.