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If I told you that being physically fit and active was important to keeping your heart healthy and preventing heart attacks, you’d probably say, “So, what else is new?”
This is old news, right?
But it’s not all about the heart.
Age also takes its toll on the flexibility of our blood vessels, particularly our arteries. And without arterial walls that are sufficiently elastic, you may as well be a sitting duck for heart disease and stroke.
Research has tried to tease out the most important factors for keeping those arteries flexible, regardless of age.
And one such study has uncovered two factor that affects artery health the most — for women, at least…
Women’s arterial health and what matters most
A study from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland looked at four health markers in women ages 16 to 58 years: aerobic fitness, body fat percentage, muscle mass and blood pressure.
The researchers wanted to determine which of these four factors might be associated with arterial stiffening in a range of age groups, even as early as adolescence.
To do this, they analyzed data from four separate studies among women of different age groups: adolescence, young adulthood, and middle adulthood. They also used data from the MIIA study (Monitoring Injury and Illness in Athletes).
Based on these analyses, it was clear that only two of the four factors — higher muscle mass and lower blood pressure — were associated with less arterial stiffness, regardless of age.
Better aerobic fitness and lower body fat percentage were also linked to better arterial flexibility — but age, too, seemed to explain these correlations.
“While age was the most important factor in explaining arterial stiffness, maintaining sufficient muscle mass and controlling blood pressure may protect against the adverse effects of aging on arterial health,” says Dr. Eero Haapala of the University of Jyvaskyla.
Helping your arteries stay young
Clearly, there’s a connection here. Keeping your muscles strong as you age could protect you from a double whammy — stiff arteries and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). And both will promote heart health.
To try and avoid that trap increase your muscle mass:
- Feed your muscles protein but spread your intake out throughout the day so you can better absorb it.
- Strength train and make omega-3 supplements part of your fitness routine. A study found taking an omega-3 supplement daily more than doubled the amount of strength women gained during strength training.
But, drum roll, please…omega-3s have direct benefits on arteries too…
They’ve been shown to improve endothelial function in the artery walls.
Inside our arteries is an endothelial lining. That lining contains a substance called elastin — and as the name indicates, its job is to promote “elastic” or flexible arteries — the opposite of stiff.
At the same time, having flexible arteries improves vasodilation — the natural process that increases blood flow and decreases blood pressure (the 2nd factor).
So an omega-3 supplement makes perfect sense to not only aid in increasing muscle mass with exercise for healthier arteries — but to also support endothelial lining, which in turn promotes normal blood pressure.
Get more omega-3s of course by eating fatty fish a couple of times a week or through supplementing. Fish oil was the only option for years, but krill oil has become popular for producing less stomach upset and fish burps.
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