When cholesterol-clogged plaque narrows an artery that feeds the heart, the body responds by trying to bulk up tiny blood vessels in the heart. As these so-called collateral vessels grow more muscular and interconnected, they begin to reroute some of the blood flow around the blockage. Scientists have been trying for years to nudge collateral blood vessels to develop and prosper, but without great success. However, you can do it at home without anything more high-tech than a comfortable pair of shoes, reports the Harvard Heart Letter in its January 2008 issue.
Growing new collateral blood vessels can ease chest pain (angina), limit heart attack damage, improve survival, and perhaps even offer extra time for emergency therapy in the case of a heart attack. And exercise can boost these blood vessels.
Exercise dramatically increases blood flow through the coronary arteries. The inner lining of the arteries responds to this "stress" much as it does to the stress of atherosclerosis, by stimulating collateral blood vessels to elongate, widen, and form new connections.
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