Socially isolated or not, maintaining vascular health is key to your overall well-being. Dr. Diego Hernandez shares helpful ways to keep your vascular system functioning during these unprecedented times
Sponsored by Bloomfield Vein & Vascular, PLLC.
We are in an unprecedented time. Our daily routines have been greatly impacted by COVID-19, and we have had to adjust to a new normal. It might seem odd to talk about vascular health now, but it is because we are going through this unusual period that I believe it is essential to maintain vascular health. Vascular health is ensuring that we keep our blood vessels in the best shape that they can be, irrespective of the circumstances that exist around us.
With the need to be socially isolated, we have had to develop strategies to adapt and within the constraints of mandates from our top health officials, we are asked to identify techniques that we can implement to stay healthy.
It is apparent that in most cases, individuals with serious medical conditions have fared the worst once exposed to COVID-19. Therefore it is imperative that we make efforts to maintain or improve our health, despite the limitations that this new normal has placed on us.
As a vascular surgeon, I have taken care of patients who suffer from vascular conditions, particularly those who smoke and have been affected by diabetes. I often tell patients that if people did not smoke, we would not have to care for the consequences of this addiction. The individuals who have heart disease, diabetes and suffer from lung conditions are now recognized to have an increased risk of being affected by this virus. Having spent over two decades of my life caring for people with these conditions, I would like to offer some advice about the importance of vascular health during this critical time.
Vascular health is essential for our overall being. If the arteries that supply blood flow to our legs and our organs are not functioning properly, it can lead to significant complications. If the veins that return blood to our heart become diseased, it can affect our quality of life. As such, it is important that we take specific actions to ensure that our vascular system functions as well as it can.
One of the most important things we can do to keep our vascular system functioning properly is exercise. It is essential to understand that not everyone can participate in strenuous physical activity during this time, due to the constraints of having to be home, and perhaps some underlying medical conditions. But, as a community, vascular surgeons often instruct people that walking is an incredibly useful exercise, and even if the walk itself is not at a fast pace, the effects of this activity even at a normal pace are far-reaching.
Everyone is somewhat aware of the beneficial effects of walking. As it pertains to your vascular health, however, walking enhances the ability of the heart to pump blood. It releases specific substances in our bloodstream that stimulate our arteries to deliver better oxygenation to muscles and tissues. It promotes a drop in blood pressure by causing changes in the flexibility of our arteries, making them work more effectively.
Walking increases the amount of blood that returns to our heart from our lower extremities. It stimulates the calf muscles to squeeze the veins, which then are more effective in pushing blood up against the forces of gravity. Considering that at any point in time, 55% of our blood volume is in our lower extremities, this kind of exercise is going to facilitate the return of blood to the heart.
When we walk, if the veins are doing a better job of returning blood to the heart, the heart does not have to work as much to deliver blood to the rest of the body via the arteries. When we exercise, the arteries then do a better job of delivering the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, and the organs and muscles that get that blood can extract that oxygen more readily. Walking improves the overall function of the entire vascular system, and if the vascular system is working appropriately, the entire body works better, and we benefit from it.
Although we are limited in some of the activities that we can perform outside, walking remains the one activity that remains within our reach. So, let’s get out there and walk!
Our vascular health is also tied to smoking. Everyone knows that smoking places you at risk for lung disease, which is currently more concerning due to how this virus affects people. But smoking leads to the build up of plaque in our arteries. This condition is known as atherosclerosis, and if there is plaque within the arteries that supply our organs, blood flow is restricted, which can lead to complications.
But smoking does not cause immediate changes within our vascular system. We know that it takes decades for the effects of smoking to become apparent within our arteries. We also know that those effects can be reversed within the lungs if a person stops smoking. Unfortunately, once plaque builds inside our blood vessels, not smoking does not reverse what has already taken place.
Plaque takes a long time to develop, but once you have plaque, it is easier for plaque to build upon itself. Smoking, even if it is just one cigarette, damages the arteries in our bodies, and makes it easier for plaque to develop and for it to build upon itself. Smoking is the single most important modifiable action that an individual can control and that has a direct impact on our vascular health.
I have been told in the past that smoking helps deal with stress. There are other strategies that are healthier to deal with stress than smoking and this would be a perfect opportunity to quit tobacco use and incorporate these other strategies to help during this difficult time. Although there are many ways that could help to stop smoking, none of those strategies work unless you are willing to quit. It all starts with your desire to stop; if you believe that you want to stop smoking, any strategy that you choose to stop smoking will likely work.
Watch what you eat!
Promoting vascular health also means that we need to be careful about what we eat. Currently there is an overwhelming amount of advice regarding what different people believe is the right diet for everyone. The truth is that we know that the build up of plaque is something that begins even before we are teenagers, and that this plaque can continue to worsen as time goes on. We know that exercise and not smoking have beneficial effects on our vessels, and to a certain extent so does what we eat. But what has not been shown yet is that specific diets can reverse the plaque that is present.
While the medical community tries to sort this information, the advice that I offer my patients is that a balanced diet makes sense. Fruits and vegetables are good for you and we should all minimize the consumption of fried and fatty foods. Eating a balanced diet also promotes a healthier immune system, which, during this trying time, is incredibly important. The combination of exercise and a sensible diet also makes diabetes easier to control.
As a board-certified vascular surgeon, your vascular health is of paramount importance to me, and it should be to you. The simple actions of walking, not smoking and eating a sensible diet can have a positive impact on your overall health. These steps can boost your immune system and help to lessen some of the stress that affects all of us, now and in the future.
Stay safe, stay healthy and let’s work together to get through this extraordinary time!
Contact our office today at 248-481-2100, or visit us at bloomfieldveinandvascular.com and see what a difference it makes to be evaluated and treated by the vein experts at Bloomfield Vein & Vascular.
43700 Woodward Ave., suite 207, Bloomfield Hills