Arterial distensibility and physical activity in the ARIC study

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Dec;33(12):2065-71. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200112000-00014.


Purpose: Arterial distensibility decreases with age. This decrease may be associated with the initiation and/or progression of hypertension and atherosclerosis and may be attenuated by positive lifestyle habits, including habitual physical activity. We tested the hypothesis that self-reported sport, leisure, and work physical activity is associated with greater arterial distensibility (i.e., carotid artery pulsatile diameter changes).

Methods: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study assessed left common carotid arterial diameters and intimal-medial wall thickness (IMT) using B-mode ultrasound techniques, in 10,644 African-American and white men and women aged 45-64 yr and free of cardiovascular disease.

Results: Work activity, but not sports or leisure activity, was weakly associated with greater arterial distensibility in an ANCOVA model adjusted for blood pressure and other covariates (diastolic arterial diameter, pulse pressure, pulse pressure squared, age, race, sex, smoking, dietary fat intake, height, education, and clinical center) (P for linear trend = 0.03). Vigorous sports activity was weakly positively associated with arterial distensibility (arterial diameter change (mean +/- SE in mm) 0.42 +/- 0.004 vs 0.41 +/- 0.002 for the 12.7% of participants reporting any vs no vigorous activity, P = 0.02), and this association was not attenuated by adjustment for IMT, body mass index, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or diabetes. Repeated analyses with traditional arterial stiffness indices showed similar findings for vigorous but not work activity.

Conclusion: In contrast to several smaller studies, these findings do not support the hypothesis that habitual physical activity has a strong, consistent positive effect on arterial distensibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • African Continental Ancestry Group
  • Arteries / physiopathology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Carotid Artery, Common / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Artery, Common / physiology
  • Causality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Minnesota / epidemiology
  • Mississippi / epidemiology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prospective Studies
  • Recreation
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Ultrasonography