The impact of physical activity on endothelial function in middle-aged and elderly subjects: the Ikaria study

Hellenic J Cardiol. 2013 Mar-Apr;54(2):94-101.


Introduction: Exercise training and physical activity (PA) have substantial vascular and cardiac health benefits. Ikaria Island has been recognised as having one of the highest longevity rates worldwide and a high percentage of healthy ageing. We examined the relationship between endothelial function and levels of habitual PA to evaluate the factors related to healthy ageing in this population.

Methods: The study was conducted on a subgroup population of the IKARIA study consisting of 185 middle-aged (40-65 years) and 142 elderly subjects (66-91 years). Endothelial function was evaluated by ultrasound measurement of flow-mediated dilatation (FMD). PA was evaluated using the shortened version of the self-reported International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Subjects in the low PA group (<500 MET/ min/week) were considered as physically inactive and the rest as active.

Results: In the overall study population FMD was inversely associated with age (r=-0.24, p<0.001) and middle-aged subjects had higher FMD compared with the elderly (6.26 ± 3.31% vs. 5.21 ± 2.95%, p=0.003). Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that among middle-aged subjects the physically active had higher FMD compared with the physically inactive. Physically active subjects in the middle-aged group showed higher FMD compared with the physically active elderly (p=0.008). However, there was no difference in FMD values between middle-aged inactive subjects and the elderly physically active (p=NS).

Conclusion: The present study revealed that increased PA was associated with improved endothelial function in middle-aged subjects and that PA in elderly subjects can ameliorate the devastating effects of ageing on arterial wall properties.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / diagnostic imaging
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Greece
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology*
  • Ultrasonography