February 01, 2011

Exercise for your heart

More powerful than you may think

Arteries

You're a brisk walker by nature. Most days, you venture out for a 45-minute walk to get your blood flowing. That's why having a heart attack took you completely off guard.

But your cardiologist assured you that it was a minor heart attack, even though one of the vital coronary arteries serving your heart was fully blocked.

Minor? A complete blockage of a coronary artery sounded more major than minor.

It was minor because as the blockage developed over time, your regular exercise put a demand on your heart. That demand encouraged new blood vessels — called collateral vessels — to develop so that needed blood could reach the area of the heart downstream from most of the blockage.

It's almost never too late to reap the health benefits of increased physical activity. For a whole host of reasons, your heart and the miles of blood vessels that make up your cardiovascular system are direct beneficiaries.

Changes with time

With age, the heart's capabilities typically diminish. Aging impacts the nerves that help regulate how fast your heart beats. As a result, maximum heart rate slows. However, people who exercise regularly experience less noticeable changes than do those who are sedentary. The heart's ability to relax and fill with blood may also decrease with age, especially in people who have high blood pressure (hypertension). Again, though, the overall decrease in how much blood the heart can pump with age can be affected by physical activity.

Over time, the natural elasticity of major blood...