Give the Body What It Needs: Blood Vessels and More

June 15, 2014

Happy Fathers Day to all the dads! Hope you all are enjoying this beautiful spring day!

We’re continuing our “chat” about how exercise is about simply giving the body what it needs.

So far we have looked at how exercise gives the brain and the heart what it needs to work at its best.

Exercise causes many great changes in the blood vessels too:

Blood Flow:

  • As soon as movement starts, the blood vessels begin to constrict (get smaller) in areas where blood is not needed, such as the the digestive system.
  • At the same time, during exercise blood vessels dilate (open up or relax) in areas where blood is needed, such as the heart and the exercising muscles.
  • In fact, when we’re at rest only about 20% of our blood flow goes to the muscles and 80% goes to digestion and other areas for growth and repair.
  • Within the first 3-10 minutes of exercise there is a complete shift in blood flow: about 80% to exercising muscles, etc., and 20% to areas of maintenance and repair.

Blood Pressure:

  • During exercise the systolic blood pressure (the first number in blood pressure readings) increases, going as high as 190-220 mmHg or more.
  • However, the cause of blood pressure increase is important. It is NOT the same as when someone is under stress.
  • With stress, the walls of the blood vessels stiffen, causing more pressure.
  • During exercise, the walls of the vessels actually relax. The increased blood pressure is from the heart beating harder (see my earlier blog for more on this).
  • This relaxed state of the blood vessels actually lasts long after exercise! This is why blood pressure is lowered by exercise, for about 22 hours after one single exercise session.
  • This of exercise as a way to “erase” the effects of stress on the body. The release of chemicals to relax the blood vessels literally takes the pressure off the blood vessels. Stiff blood vessels from stress can eventually cause wear and tear and break down the smooth inside lining of vessels. This can lead to cardiovascular disease. The chemicals released from exercise returns the relaxed state of blood vessels, thus lowing the pressure on them.
  • Holding your breath during exercise however, greatly increases blood pressure much more than needed. This is why proper breathing, especially during strength training,  is so important.

If you’ve read the last few blogs about Give the Body What It Wants, I hope you’re starting to see all the amazing “inner” work that exercise does for your body, beyond what you may see or feel. And I hope if you’re ever tempted to say, “Exercise just is not working!” because the scale is not moving or your body does not look different, you’ll think again about all the “behind the scenes” work of exercise in the body!

Keep Moving, Be Well!

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Filed under Exercise and Movement Science, Inspiration

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