Vascular health in the ageing athlete

Exp Physiol. 2012 Mar;97(3):305-10. doi: 10.1113/expphysiol.2011.058792. Epub 2012 Jan 20.


The demographics of ageing are changing dramatically such that there will be many more older adults in the near future. This setting is projected to produce a new 'boomer-driven' epidemic of physiological dysfunction, disability and risk of chronic degenerative disorders, including cardiovascular diseases. Standing out against this dreary biomedical forecast are Masters athletes, a group of middle-aged and older adults who engage in regular vigorous physical training and competitive sport. Compared with their sedentary/less active (untrained) peers, Masters athletes who perform endurance training-based activities demonstrate a more favourable arterial function-structure phenotype, including lower large elastic artery stiffness, enhanced vascular endothelial function and less arterial wall hypertrophy. As such, they may represent an exemplary model of healthy or 'successful' vascular ageing. In contrast, Masters athletes engaged primarily/exclusively in intensive resistance training exhibit less favourable arterial function-structure than their endurance-trained peers and, in some instances, untrained adults. These different arterial properties are probably explained in large part by the different intravascular mechanical forces generated during endurance versus resistance exercise-related training activities. The more favourable arterial function-structure profile of Masters endurance athletes may contribute to their low risk of clinical cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Performance
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Blood Vessels / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Elasticity / physiology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors