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  [ 42 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • February 3, 2004

What does it mean to have young, healthy blood vessels? Children, teenagers and young adults who do not have early signs of atherosclerosis have arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the organs of the body) that are supple and compliant. These arteries can expand with each surge of blood that is pumped by the heart, so that blood pressure rises only a small amount rather than shoots up. This smaller rise in blood pressure with each heartbeat means you have a lower risk of a blood vessel breaking open due to high pressures. It also means that you don’t have much atherosclerosis — the deposits of fat and scarring of artery walls that ultimately cause most heart attacks and strokes. The really, really good news is that you can keep your arteries young — much more effectively than you can try to hold off the superficial manifestations of aging. A few simple strategies that you’ve heard of before have all been shown to slow down and even reverse the signs of aging blood vessels. These tactics include: Exercise as much as possible — A reasonable goal is 30 minutes or so at least three days a week, but ideally every day. Control your cholesterol — Reducing elevated LDL cholesterol has been shown to help restore flexibility to arteries. Control your blood pressure — Constant exposure of blood vessels to pressures above normal takes its toll. No smoking — The chemicals in cigarette smoke are killers of blood-vessel health. No matter how old you are, these tactics can help your blood vessels stay young. (Source: Aetna Intelihealth, featuring Harvard Medical School's Consumer Health Information.)

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