Regular robust exercise protects (and extends) your health in dozens of ways. Recent research at Emory University focused on how exercise protects your heart by stimulating your heart into generating and storing the gas, nitric oxide. To be clear, this gas is not nitrous oxide (N2O), the anesthetic “laughing gas.”
The chemical formula for the important cellular signaling gas nitric oxide is NO. One of the main signalling functions of NO is the relaxation of smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels. The resulting vasodilation allows blood to flow easier and in greater volume. Blood pressure is reduced. Dr. Oz includes a graphic of NO molecules widening blood vessels in YOU: Staying Young. He advocates nose breathing to promote NO. NO plays an important role in erections through this blood flow mechanism and is a mechanism employed by Viagra.
In addition to vasodilation, NO protects the heart and arteries, specifically the endothelial lining of blood vessels, in other ways. NO, which is produced primarily in this endothelium, also helps the heart and arteries by preventing fatty deposits. Plaque build up is reduced. Oxidation in artery walls is lessened. Stickiness of platelets and monocytes is limited. All these factor help keep arteries clear and healthy.
In the heart, the Emory research showed that this nitric oxide creation and storage in the heart of NO metabolites, nitrite and nitrosothiols proved cardio-protective. They also point to the role of endothelial nitric oxide synthase a (eNOS) and β3-adrenergic receptors (β3-ARs). They conclude, “Our findings clearly demonstrate that exercise protects the heart against myocardial ischemia–reperfusion injury by stimulation of β3-ARs and increased cardiac storage of nitric oxide metabolites (ie, nitrite and nitrosothiols).”
This cardio-protective effect lasted about a week after ceasing exercise, presumably through the release of stored NO from its metabolites remaining in the heart. So say “yes” to NO by not letting a week go by without a good session of cardiovascular exercise. Ideally, it is a very good and healthy practice to exercise hard and long enough to produce quickened breathing and sweating on a daily basis.
Much of what is known about physiology is being redefined by the recent discovery and research into the endocannabinoid regulatory system. Few physiological processes seem untouched by this system and NO production is no different.