Your heart on nitric oxide: protectant effects of exercise.

Say YES to NO with exercise!

Say YES to NO with exercise!

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.

Running speed and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Running speed a great indicator of health.

Running speed a great indicator of health.

The key role of cardiovascular exercise in keeping healthy and hearty has been confirmed in a couple of important studies. They point out the amount of time it takes you to run a mile is a great indicator of cardiovascular health and your danger of heart attack and stroke.

Reported in Red Orbit and elsewhere, two studies of this behavioral indicator of cardiovascular health, showed that for middle-aged men, the length of time required to run one mile (1,609 meters) predicted heart attack and stroke better than did blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

Faster times predict fewer heart and brain attacks. A 55 year old male who requires 15 minutes to walk/run a mile (only 4 miles per hour) faces a 30% chance of suffering cardiovascular disease. A man of the same age who can run a mile in just 8 minutes (7.5 miles per hour) faces far lower danger of cardiovascular disease, less than 10 percent.

One way to increase running speed is with interval training, brief bursts at higher speed. After warm up jogging, a common interval is one minute slow jogging speed followed by one minute high intensity running, then repeating the sequence up to 10 times. This writer has been experimenting with slow jog/fast walk for 90 seconds, interspersed with 30 seconds high speed. This rhythm seems well suited for a non-punishing work-out made plenty intense with the periods at high speed. These high speed intervals quickly boost heart rate and sweating, both goals of a good conditioning, fat-burning workout.

High levels of physical activity such as running seem to correspond with activation of the endocannabinoid regulatory system, the receptor based system also activated by the THC in cannabis. Indeed, the fabled “runner’s high” might be the result of this system, rather than (or in addition to) to endorphins. More about this in a future post.

Caution: For those poorly conditioned, increasing activity and especially trying to push up maximum speed can present some dangers. A consultation with your (fit) medical practitioner and taking a stress EKG test is a good precaution.

Caution: Being poorly conditioned and not participating in physical activity presents an enormous risk of cardiovascular disease, along with obesity, diabetes and a host of other diseases.