Edward F. Adolph Distinguished Lecture: The remarkable anti-aging effects of aerobic exercise on systemic arteries

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2014 Sep 1;117(5):425-39. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00362.2014. Epub 2014 May 22.


Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) remain the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in modern societies, and advancing age is the major risk factor for CVD. Arterial dysfunction, characterized by large elastic artery stiffening and endothelial dysfunction, is the key event leading to age-associated CVD. Our work shows that regular aerobic exercise inhibits large elastic artery stiffening with aging (optimizes arterial compliance) and preserves endothelial function. Importantly, among previously sedentary late middle-aged and older adults, aerobic exercise improves arterial stiffness and enhances endothelial function in most groups and, therefore, also can be considered a treatment for age-associated arterial dysfunction. The mechanisms by which regular aerobic exercise destiffens large elastic arteries are incompletely understood, but existing evidence suggests that reductions in oxidative stress associated with decreases in both adventitial collagen (fibrosis) and advanced glycation end-products (structural protein cross-linking molecules), play a key role. Aerobic exercise preserves endothelial function with aging by maintaining nitric oxide bioavailability via suppression of excessive superoxide-associated oxidative stress, and by inhibiting the development of chronic low-grade vascular inflammation. Recent work from our laboratory supports the novel hypothesis that aerobic exercise may exert these beneficial effects by directly inducing protection to aging arteries against multiple adverse factors to which they are chronically exposed. Regular aerobic exercise should be viewed as a "first line" strategy for prevention and treatment of arterial aging and a vital component of a contemporary public health approach for reducing the projected increase in population CVD burden.

Keywords: arterial stiffness; endothelial dysfunction; inflammation; oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Lecture
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Arteries / growth & development
  • Arteries / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Vascular Stiffness / physiology