Clear, flexible, healthful. Blocked, rigid, diseased. How would you want your arteries to be described? Can they be clear, flexible, and healthy regardless of whether you are in your early 20s or late 70s?
A sizeable study on more than 3,000 adults suggests it's not entirely impossible! This is noteworthy considering our past understanding was that hardening of the arteries was inevitable. While genetics can play a role on vascular health through the lifecycle, lifestyle plays a much greater role in keeping those vessels looking "young".
What do old vessels look like?
Vascular aging refers to a gradual change in the structure and function of blood vessels, specifically their walls and lining. The lining of arteries and veins is called the vascular endothelium. The endothelium controls how blood vessels constrict and widen. It controls the immune response. It also is involved in re-endothelialization (that is, the repair and regrowth of any blood vessel lining cells). Over time, blood vessels stiffen, blood pressure rises, and vessels are less compliant to how they should be widening/constricting for proper blood flow and health.
What causes the aging? Well, there is primary aging. This refers to the normal aging that occurs as a consequence of the normal, healthy metabolic processes that occur in the body. It's inevitable. It's a part of life as we know it.
Secondary aging, however, can be caused by our own choices and environment to some degree. This includes a sedentary lifestyle, an unhealthy weight, or a toxic inflammatory environment from unhealthy foods or exposure to toxins from smoking.
Aging vasculature leaves a person more susceptible to disease, especially cardiovascular diseases.
Almost four centuries ago an English physician Thomas Sydenham said that "a man is as old as his arteries." Research is showing his words prove to be quite accurate. Then, how can you maintain youthful vasculature and thus maintain a natural resistance to disease?
Keeping Vessels "Forever Young"
It turns out you can influence the age of your vasculature until a rather late age, as a recent study reveals.
A 2017 study published in Hypertension collected data on nearly 3,200 adults aged 50 and older enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study. Results showed that eating right and regularly exercising helped offset age-related blood vessel degeneration.
The main goals to offset vascular aging included staying lean, not developing diabetes, and maintaining low cholesterol levels. Researchers compared study subjects to the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7" goals for maintaing a healthy heart. They found that when at least 6 of the goals were met, people were 10 times more likely to have healthy, younger blood vessels than those who met none of the goals.
The goals of the Aemerican Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 include:
Manage Blood Pressure
Reduce Blood Sugar
Get and Stay Active
Lose Excess Weight
A different study found that exercise offsets vascular aging by reducing oxidative stress that can damage walls and by helping the body repair any vascular damage that has occurred.
How do younger vessels translate to better health?
Less vascular aging means being less prone to diseases of the cardiovascular system. This includes everything from heart attack to erectile dysfunction to stroke and even to vascular cognitive impairment.
The 2017 study found that those who had healthy blood vessles had a 55% lower risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
Vascular cognitive impairment refers to a full range of cognitive problems (from mild impairment that has little impact on daily function to fully developed dementia) that cause a decline in thinking abilities.
Studies like these can give us the impetus we need to change our habits or to maintain healthy habits. It is not easy to maintain a regular exercise program or to homecook healthy meals.
Simple solutions, such as short bursts of exercise scattered throughout the day, or making a delicious but healthy nourishing shake to provide our body with the antioxidants and nutrition we need to feed our cells can help us make better choices.
Hypertension. December 2017, Volume 70, Issue 6
Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 3583956, 15 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/3583956
Front Physiol. 2012; 3: 325.