The effect of lifelong exercise frequency on arterial stiffness

Shigeki Shibata, Naoki Fujimoto, Jeffrey L. Hastings, Graeme Carrick-Ranson, Paul S. Bhella, Christopher Hearon, Benjamin D. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Key points: This study examined the effect of different ‘doses’ of lifelong (>25 years) exercise on arterial stiffening (a hallmark of vascular ageing) in older adults. There are clear dose-dependent effects of lifelong exercise training on human arterial stiffness that vary according to the site and size of the arteries. Similar to what we have observed previously with ventricular stiffening, 4–5 days week−1 of committed exercise over a lifetime are necessary to preserve ‘youthful’ vascular compliance, especially of the large central arteries. Casual exercise training of two to three times per week may be sufficient for middle-sized arteries like the carotid to minimize arterial stiffening with ageing. However, there is little effect of exercise training on the small-sized peripheral arteries at any dose. Abstract: Central arterial stiffness increases with sedentary ageing. While near-daily, vigorous lifelong (>25 years) endurance exercise training prevents arterial stiffening with ageing, this rigorous routine of exercise training over a lifetime is impractical for most individuals. The aim was to examine whether a less frequent ‘dose’ of lifelong exercise training (four to five sessions per week for > 30 min) that is consistent with current physical activity recommendations elicits similar benefits on central arterial stiffening with ageing. A cross-sectional examination of 102 seniors (>60 years old) who had a consistent lifelong exercise history was performed. Subjects were stratified into four groups based on exercise frequency as an index of exercise ‘dose’: sedentary: fewer than two sessions per week; casual exercisers: two to three sessions per week; committed exercisers: four to five sessions per week; and Masters athletes: six to seven sessions per week plus regular competitions. Detailed measurements of arterial stiffness and left ventricular afterload were collected. Biological aortic age and central pulse wave velocity were younger in committed exercisers and Masters athletes compared to sedentary seniors. Total arterial compliance index (TACi) was lower, while carotid β-stiffness index and effective arterial elastance were higher in sedentary seniors compared to the other groups. There appeared to be a dose–response threshold for carotid β-stiffness index and TACi. Peripheral arterial stiffness was not significantly different among the groups. These data suggest that four to five weekly exercise sessions over a lifetime is associated with reduced central arterial stiffness in the elderly. A less frequent dose of lifelong exercise (two to three sessions per week) is associated with decreased ventricular afterload and peripheral resistance, while peripheral arterial stiffness is unaffected by any dose of exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2783-2795
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2018


  • aging
  • arterial stiffness
  • exercise training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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