The effect of physical activity or exercise on key biomarkers in atherosclerosis--a systematic review

Atherosclerosis. 2014 Jul;235(1):150-61. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2014.04.026. Epub 2014 May 1.


Objective: This systematic review aimed to summarize published papers on the effect of physical activity (PA)/exercise on key atherosclerotic factors in patients with risk factors for or established cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Methods: Studies involving PA and cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, CRP and angiogenic factors were searched for in Medline and Cochrane library. Original human studies of more than 2 weeks of PA intervention were included. Study quality was assessed according to the GRADE system of evidence.

Results: Twenty-eight papers fulfilled the inclusion criteria. PA decreases the cytokines, tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and interferon-y IFN-y (high, moderate and low evidence, respectively). The effect of PA on chemokines; stromal derived factor-1 (SDF-1), interleukin-8 (IL-8) (insufficient evidence) and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) (low evidence) was inconclusive. Aerobic exercise decreased the adhesion molecules, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) (moderate and high evidence, respectively), while effects of PA on E- and P-selectin were inconclusive. PA decreases C-reactive protein (CRP) (high evidence). The angiogenic actors, endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) are increased (high evidence) and VEGF is decreased (moderate evidence) by PA. The effect of PA on these factors seems to depend on the type and duration of exercise intervention and patient factors, such as presence of ischemia.

Conclusion: As presented in this review, there is a high level of evidence that physical activity positively affects key players in atherosclerosis development. These effects could partly explain the scientifically proven anti-atherogenic effects of PA, and do have important clinical implications.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Exercise; Molecular biology; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Chemokine CXCL12 / blood
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Motor Activity
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • CXCL12 protein, human
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Interferon-gamma
  • C-Reactive Protein