If your doctor suspects you have significant arterial stiffness, he or she will also likely counsel you to take a hard look at your risky lifestyle behaviors, e.g., stop smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, switch to a low fat/low salt diet and exercise more. This is good advice, but it can be a bit overwhelming to adopt all of these lifestyle changes at once, so many people don’t unless they have a very powerful motivator, such as surviving a heart attack or stroke.
So if you’re going to pick one to start with, which one these lifestyle changes has the deepest research support for reducing arterial stiffness?
The answer is exercise. A number of recent studies have examined the benefit of cardiovascular/aerobic exercise or strength resistance training among people of varying health status and age. For example:
1. One recent study showed that a low-intensity, 10-week resistance training program reduced arterial stiffness as measured by pulse wave velocity by 7% in young adults.
2. Another study among people with chronic kidney disease (a common complication associated with diabetes) showed a 12% reduction in arterial stiffness/PWV as a result of a 12-month moderate-intensity cardiovascular/aerobic exercise program.
3. Yet another recent study revealed a 10% reduction in arterial stiffness/PWV among older moderate-to-severe COPD patients participating in a four-week moderate-intensity cardiovascular/aerobic exercise program.
4. In a study involving older adults with type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, those who underwent a three-month vigorous cardiovascular/aerobic exercise program experienced a 20% drop in PWV in forearm arteries and a 10% drop in arterial stiffness from upper leg arteries.
There are more studies showing similar ranges of improvement, but we think you get the point. Whether you’re young and healthy, or older with a chronic health condition, an ongoing aerobic and strength training exercise program can provide meaningful improvement in arterial stiffness.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late
If you think you may be at risk for arterial stiffness, ask your doctor to order an arterial stiffness test. These tests measure the stiffness of the arteries by assessing your pulse wave velocity in comparison with PWV levels established over the years that indicate flexible arteries versus hardened ones.
There are different methodologies used to determine arterial stiffness, but most of the tests are simple to administer and non-invasive. Typically, a sensor is strapped to your ankle, forearm, upper leg or neck and it detects/reports the time it takes for a pulse wave to go from one part of your body to another.