You Can Prevent Hardening of the Arteries

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Conventional wisdom has long held that stiffening arteries and the resultant rising blood pressure are inevitable as people get older.

But a study published today in the journal Hypertension found that this so-called hardening of the arteries—which causes your heart and blood vessels to work harder and less efficiently, increasing heart attack and stroke risks—isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Some people manage to maintain low blood pressure and “arteries that are as soft as people who are in their twenties or teens,” says Teemu Niiranen, M.D., Ph.D., research fellow with the ongoing Framingham Heart Study at Boston University, whose team conducted the new study.

And the lifestyle steps that appear to be most important are the same ones heart health experts have long advocated, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and staying close to normal body weight. “The factors that help these people maintain healthy vasculature are actually the same old stuff that has been conveyed for a long while,” Niiranen says.

“This is yet another piece of a large puzzle showing that adhering to a healthy diet and lifestyle is likely associated with better health outcomes,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University who wasn’t involved with the study.

Once your arteries have hardened, says Lichtenstein, they won’t soften back up. “You want to try to avoid stiffening from the beginning,” she says. But it’s never too late to prevent additional damage to your arteries, with key lifestyle steps.

What This Study Tells Us

In the study, researchers looked at blood pressure and pulse wave volume, which measures artery stiffness, to get a picture of overall vascular health for 3,196 adults age 50 and over.

They found that those who followed six of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Life’s Simple 7” steps for heart health were 10 times…

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