The effect of physical exercise on endothelial function

Sports Med. 2009;39(10):797-812. doi: 10.2165/11317750-000000000-00000.


Endothelium is essential for maintenance of health of the vessel wall and for the local regulation of vascular tone and structure and haemostasis. Regular physical exercise, which is known to promote a favourable cardiovascular state, may improve endothelial function via several mechanisms. Indeed, it augments blood flow and laminar shear stress, resulting in increased nitric oxide production and bioavailability. In this regard, the beneficial effects of training on endothelial function can be mediated in a number of ways, including synthesis of molecular mediators, changes in neurohormonal release and oxidant/antioxidant balance. On the other hand, physical exercise can also elicit systemic molecular pathways connected with angiogenesis and chronic anti-inflammatory action with consequent modification of the endothelial function. However, its benefit depends on the type and intensity of training performed. While strenuous exercise increases oxidative metabolism and produces a pro-oxidant environment, only regular moderate physical activity promotes an antioxidant state and preserves endothelial function. Thus, exercise may have a beneficial effect on the development of cardiovascular disease through preserving endothelial function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Eicosanoids / metabolism
  • Endothelin-1 / metabolism
  • Endothelium, Vascular / cytology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / metabolism
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide / metabolism
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Shear Strength
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Tissue Plasminogen Activator / metabolism
  • Vasodilation


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Eicosanoids
  • Endothelin-1
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Tissue Plasminogen Activator