Six steps to youthful, supple arteries

Wouldn’t it be great to have the flexible, healthy arteries of a young person again? Arteries that are resistant to heart attacks, strokes, and dementia?

“Maintaining a youthful vascular function beyond age 70 is extremely challenging,” say researchers from the Framingham Heart Study.  But it’s doable they insist, adding that it requires a long term commitment to achieving six goals for good health.

As we age, the aorta, carotids, and other large arteries that keep oxygen-rich blood flowing through our body lose some of their capacity to widen or narrow. They become less compliant. With aging, arterial compliance declines and arterial stiffness increases. Arteries are most supple at about age 30 and then start stiffening.


Framingham Heart Study

The Framingham Heart Study has been tracking the health of several generations of residents of this Massachusetts city. It’s now a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and Boston University.

Using new data from Framingham, scientists this spring showed exactly how much the six health goals can affect your chances of gaining and keeping healthy arteries.

The researchers defined the sign of healthy arteries as a blood pressure of less than 140/90 without drugs and a rate of blood flow through the arteries typical of a healthy person in their 20s.

Among the 3,196 residents of Framingham they studied, the researchers found healthy arteries in 30 percent of those in their 50s, in 7 percent of those in their 60s, but in only 1 percent — 6 of 617 — of those in their 70s. Hence, the challenge for older individuals.

The healthy goals that the researchers patterned after American Heart Association guidelines and measured in the Framingham residents were:

  • No smoking
  • A BMI of less than 25
  • Regular physical activity
  • Cholesterol level below 200 without the use of drugs
  • Fasting blood glucose below 100 without the use of drugs
  • A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains and limited in sodium and added sugars.

What the researchers found

Compared with achieving only one or two of these goals, the Framingham residents who met three or four of the goals increased by three-fold their chances of having healthy arteries. Hitting five goals, their odds jumped to seven times. And those who achieved all six were 10 times more likely to have youthful arteries than those who could manage one or two of the goals.

Avoiding vascular aging and stiff arteries can have a big payoff. The Framingham researchers tracked the city’s men and women for 10 years and found that those with healthy arteries had less than half the likelihood of suffering heart attacks or strokes during that time.

Stiffer arteries also increase the risk of cognitive decline. People who entered the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging cognitively intact but with stiffer arteries were more likely to show declines in verbal learning skills and memory over the next decade than those who started out with less-stiff arteries.

The American Heart Association says that each of its healthy goals “have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference.”

Source: Hypertension. 2017;HYPERTENSIONAHA.117.09026

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