The Atherosclerotic Process - The Benefits of Physical Activity
The atherosclerotic process typically begins with some damage to the walls of the arteries. High blood pressure, high levels of LDL cholesterol and compounds in cigarrettes all cause some damage to the vessels. The immune system responds to heal the area but makes the area “sticky”by releasing various cytokines into the area. If a person has high levels of LDL cholesterol, the compounds in the cholesterol become stuck on the surface of the vessels and lead to the formation of fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). Exercise is known to reduce this buildup primarily by decreasing cholesterol and blood pressure.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Smith et al., 1999) has shown that exercise also decrease the activity of blood mononuclear cells and thereby reduce the amount of atherogenic substances that are released in the vessels. This beneficial effect on the immune system is another likely mechanism for the preventive benefits of physical activity on coronary heart disease.
Smith et al. (1999) Long-term exercise and atherogenic activity of blood mononuclear cells in persons at risk of developing ischemic heart disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(18), 1722-1727.