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Strategies for Improving Vascular Health

Strategies for Improving Vascular Health
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Efficient blood circulation is essential for the health of nearly all bodily functions, including the heart and cardiovascular system, the kidneys, and the brain. If vascular health is compromised, either from endothelial (blood vessel wall) dysfunction or stiffening of the large elastic arteries (such as the aorta and carotid arteries), then the risk for adverse health outcomes increases dramatically. Because poor vascular health reduces life expectancy, mobility, and independence, it’s important to take steps to improve vascular health before it’s too late. 

In addition to a heart-healthy diet, a key tool in maintaining good vascular health is getting regular aerobic exercise. Most guidelines recommend adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. Studies have shown these 150 minutes can be spread throughout the week or squeezed into one or two sessions, though there’s debate if weekend warriors may be at increased risk for injury (so stretch, please).  

Unfortunately, aerobic exercise can be time consuming, leading people to either not exercise enough or just skip it entirely. The good news is that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can provide similar benefits in a more compact space of time. Simply put, HIIT involves short bursts of near maximum effort between periods of low-intensity exercise. It can involve walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc. There are several options for HIIT with respect to interval time, but the typical goal is to complete 45-60 total minutes of high-intensity effort during the week. 

A rather new and potentially time-efficient form of exercise is high-intensity inspiratory muscle strength training. This involves inhaling against a resistance while exhaling is unimpeded. Taking 30 breaths against higher resistance (~5 min./day) has been found to reduce blood pressure 10-12 mmHg in both normal subjects as well as those with obstructive sleep apnea over a six-week time period. Interestingly, traditional aerobic exercise only reduces BP by 5 mmHg or less.

A third approach is the use of passive heat therapy using repeated hot water immersion to raise core body temperature ~1-1.5°C, to improve macro- and microvascular cutaneous dilatation and reduce arterial stiffness. Similar to aerobic exercise, this causes an increase in body core temperature, heart rate, cardiac output, peripheral circulation, and activation of protective stress response mediators. 

However, before making any changes to diet or starting an exercise program, consult with your healthcare provider to make sure you’re not potentially placing yourself at increased risk for poor outcomes, as well as to establish a baseline to compare your progress against.

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