Protecting your arteries

I read an article in the "Wall Street Journal" dated June 1, 2010. The subtitle was "How to Turn Back
the Clock when your blood vessels grow old before you do" and that really caught my eye. Most of the article wasn't anything new; you can prevent or lessen damage to your arteries by some combination of eating a healthy diet, controlling your weight, sticking the meds your physician gives you for heart or blood pressure and not smoking.

Okay, so I already knew all that and so should you, whether you actually "walk the walk" or just talk about doing so as so many of us do. Over the years I've quit smoking (when I was a third year medical student and saw a cancer patient smoking through his tracheoestomy), decided, progressively,to lose weight (I'm now under 150 pounds consistently, allowing myself to bounce up and down a few pounds; my max weight, many years ago was 218), eaten a more healthy diet (just got a notice from our local CSA that our weekly "couples veggie share" and "fruit share" will start on the 14th and made sure my blood pressure was controlled

The striking data here appeared in the journal "Circulation" last August, co-authored by a professor of preventive cardiology at Northwestern. Men and women, in his study, who followed the precepts I've mentioned above, could have arteries that were equivalent to those of people 14 to 21 years younger. The flip side was certainly true also. A 35-year-old man who does the exact opposite (smokes, doesn't exercise, has diabetes (probably Type 2 and obesity related) and abnormal cholesterol levels), may have arteries equivalent to those of a 76-year-old.

Your heart, if your resting heart rate is ~70, beats about 100,000 times a day; every time it does so it exposes your arteries to wear and tear. So I had an EKG done last week. My resting heart rate is 53, down from higher levels before I started to exercise regularly. There were no signs of heart damage on the cardiogram and my own personal physician said a while back, "Peter, you've gradually increased your exercise level over the years; now you're doing the equivalent of a stress test every day."

I think I'm on the right track, but I spent time yesterday with a friend whose belly overflowed his belt buckle. I mentioned that I thought he might want to read my blog and he said, "I weighed 174 in high school and I'm only at 185 now."

The problem is where the weight is distributed. Many of us had more muscle mass and less belly fat in high school. We may weigh the same, or nearly so, but still be at considerable risk for heart disease and other blood vessel problems.

I've taken four and a half inches off my waist measurement; is it time for you to do the same?

2 Responses to “Protecting your arteries”

  1. It's interesting that we have the ability to actually reverse some damage when we begin a healthier lifestyle. In the old days they used to tell us that our lungs would return to near normal within ten years if we quit smoking. That has not proved to be quite true...but improvement is better than what happens if smokers don't stop at all. I quit smoking 28 years ago. Lung cancer has popped up in my family enough times that I'm scared to even be in the same room with smokers. And my brother's wife died last year of end stage COPD. Smoking cigarettes is a horrible thing to do to our bodies.

  2. Peter Springberg says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Pat. I'm astounded at how many young people still are smoking.

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