Shield Your Heart with Exercise

Nitrite and nitrosothiols protects the heart after heart attack

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Exercise keeps you happy and healthy. It not only makes you fit, but also lowers your risk of heart attack and protects your heart from damage if you actually have a heart attack.

Until recently, doctors did not know much about how exercise protected the heart from injury. The heart can make and store nitric oxide - a gas that increases blood flow and oxygen, protecting the heart from damage. Researchers found that exercise can cause the body to produce more nitric oxide.

"Exercise protects your heart after a heart attack."

According to David Lefer, Ph.D., from Emory University School of Medicine and the study's senior author, these findings suggest that nitrite and nitrosothiols may protect the heart from damage after a heart attack. Using mice, Lefer and colleagues studied how exercise could protect the heart from injury after heart attack.

More specifically, the nitric oxide produced during exercise is in the form of nitrite and nitrosothiols, which are more stable in the body. These store nitric oxide for times when the body needs more blood flow or oxygen, such as after a heart attack.

Less heart muscle was damaged by blockage after the exercise period. Exercise increased levels of an enzyme that makes nitric oxide.

The Study

  • Mice that ran on a wheel for four weeks were protected from having a blocked coronary artery
  • Even a week after exercise stopped, mice still had high levels of nitric oxide in heart tissue, and high levels of nitrite and nitrosothiols in the blood and heart tissue
  • Four weeks after the exercise period ended, mice no longer had the protective effects of exercise because nitrite and nitrosothiols in the heart returned to normal levels
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 5, 2011
Last Updated:
May 6, 2011