Eli5: How does exercise improve heart health? Reverse things like high blood pressure and clogged arteries?



Eli5: How does exercise improve heart health? Reverse things like high blood pressure and clogged arteries?

In: Biology

The heart is a muscle. In the same way that working out your arm or leg muscles makes them stronger, working out your heart makes it stronger and more efficient. Exercise also increases your levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that lowers heart disease risk by flushing the artery-clogging LDL or “bad” cholesterol out of your system and keeps your blood vessels wider which means lower blood pressure.

Your heart is a muscle, you train it, it gets stringer, it becomes able to pump more blood per pump, therefore lowering your resting pulse. Exercise alone won’t “unclog” your arteries, a healthy diet will. Your body is always working to staying as healthy as possible, so if you stop eating unhealthy food your body will be able to work out your arteries and with a healthy diet you just simply dont fuck it up again.

Exercise and diet both play a vital role, but let’s focus on exercise.

Regular exercise, which means at least around 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (like a moderate to brisk walk) every day, will specifically impact 3 areas that will help your heart: metabolism, vessels, and the heart itself.

For metabolism, when you “stress” your body with exercise, you’re flipping the switch from “conserve energy” to “use energy”. The body is an adaptation machine, and with regular activity there will be increased emphasis on the “use energy” parts of your metabolism. This means better control over blood sugar (prevents/controls diabetes), decrease in LDL cholesterol (which tends to deposit in vessels), and increase in HDL cholesterol (which tends to take deposits away for energy). There’s also weight loss, which means you have to move less weight with less effort and have less “body” for the heart to pump blood to.

For vessels, I mentioned this previously but exercise will help loosen them by slowing down, or even reversing, fat deposits which can effectively scar down and cause narrowing/hardening of the arteries. Stretchy, clean vessels are good, and exercise helps that by promoting brisk blood flow with HDL and fewer markers of inflammation. Amazingly, even if you have heart vessel disease, even regular gentle exercise can help the heart create new branches of vessels around, and in, the heart.

For the heart itself, it’s a muscle, and exercise makes it work harder, which it adapts to by becoming bigger/stronger. Both high blood pressure and exercise cause the heart to get bigger, but the big difference is that exercise also helps the heart become stretchy, so every time it expands it can take in more blood to pump, and every time is squeezes it pushes a higher amount forward. It’s very efficient at this.

TL;DR: Regular exercise can help prevent and even break up some of the blood vessel deposits that come with aging/diet, and this improves blood pressure. It can also make the heart a better, more effective pump by making it stronger and stretchier, and encourage new blood vessel growth.