Doctors know that exercise:
- reduces your risk of having a heart attack, and…
- protects your heart from injury if a heart attack should occur
And in this new study, researchers have identified exactly how exercise helps your heart produce and store nitric oxide in order to protect itself from injury.
Nitric Oxide 101
Nitric oxide is a gas generated in your body that has the ability to turn on chemical pathways that relax/dilate blood vessels, increasing blood flow and activating survival pathways.
Researchers found that “nitric oxide generated during physical exercise is actually stored in the bloodstream and heart in the form of nitrite and nitrosothiols. These more stable nitric oxide intermediates appear to be critical for the cardioprotection against a subsequent heart attack.”
They found that 4 weeks of aerobic exercise (hamster wheel) boosted levels of an enzyme (eNOS) that produces nitric oxide. These increased levels of eNOS resulted in higher levels of nitrite and nitrosothiols in the blood as well as the heart tissue.
And these levels stayed at that high level for a week after exercise was stopped. After four weeks, the levels returned back to normal and the cardio-protective effect was lost.
This research is pretty cool for two reasons.
- It gives those stubborn non-exercisers a scientific/medical reason to get up off the couch and get sweaty, and
- A drug/supplement that can mimic this exercise effect would be a powerful tool in helping to protect the heart after a heart attack has already happened.