We know about a healthy diet, exercise and not smoking, but there are other easy steps to cardiovascular health.
A big key is nitric oxide. It’s ridiculously important and was only discovered in the mid-1990s, but it’s likely that neither your GP nor cardiologist, if you have one, has ever raised it.
Nitric oxide is a gas that’s vital to the health of our arteries. It’s anti-inflammatory so it relaxes and opens them up, which lowers blood pressure. It also stimulates the production of new cells for the lining of our arterial walls and prevents anything — like blood clots — sticking to them. Plus, it helps lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
As a sidenote, if you increase the nitric oxide in the blood vessels of the penis, voilà, you have an erection, which is how Viagra works.
In fact, Viagra was originally being developed to treat angina but participants in the early trials discovered it had another benefit. Lucky old Pfizer.
As we get older our nitric oxide production reduces, making our arteries more vulnerable (and penises less responsive). Without it, arteries are at greater risk of narrowing, stiffening, and having clots attach to their walls.
Anything that increases nitric oxide production will keep them healthier and reduce our likelihood of heart disease and stroke.
And now that I’ve mentioned Viagra, given it increases nitric oxide, does it reduce heart attack risk?
There hasn’t been specific research on that, but a long-term study in Manchester looking at the use of Viagra by diabetic men who’d had a heart attack showed their risk of dying from any cause fell by 15.4 per cent. That’s a lot.
But Viagra aside…
Get some sun
Not only is sunlight a source of vitamin D and a boost to our mental health, it helps our skin make nitric oxide and this can enter the blood. Which means that going for a walk or doing a spot of gardening could have more benefits than just exercise.
Of course, be sensible when the sun is fierce and don’t overdo it.
Do some deep breathing
Intriguingly, nitric oxide is also manufactured in our nasal passages and sinuses where its microbial activity helps protect us against inhaling pathogens. But when it reaches our lungs it opens the blood vessels there too, increasing oxygen uptake.
Nasal breathing, i.e. inhaling and exhaling via your nose supports this. Slow deep breathing is central to yoga and meditation practices because it’s calming, and since stress and production of the stress hormone cortisol ramp up our cardiovascular risk, soothing ourselves does the opposite.
So instead of starting your day by checking your phone, catching the news or launching into your to-do list, try going outside and taking a few long, deep breaths through your nose.
Drink enough water
Dehydration can trigger blood clots. I once knew a fit, healthy, young basketballer who had a stroke on the court. Doctors put it down to her being dehydrated.
The increased risk of deep vein thrombosis on long-haul flights is partly because people don’t move for hours and partly because they get dehydrated. Blood vessels narrow and the blood thickens.
So turn yourself into a good water drinker.
And don’t forget food and exercise
I was talking about other steps we an take, but bear in mind that diet and exercise both help our bodies make nitric oxide.
In the food stakes, top marks go to beetroot, garlic, leafy greens, citrus, nuts and seeds, watermelon, meat, and you’ll be pleased to know, dark chocolate and a bit of red wine. Any unprocessed food is great, and if it’s local, so much the better.
Photo Source: Bigstock