Exercise induces arterial flow patterns that promote functional and structural adaptations, improving functional capacity and reducing cardiovascular risk. While heat is produced by exercise, local and whole-body passive heating have recently been shown to generate favorable flow profiles and associated vascular adaptations in the upper limb. Flow responses to acute heating in the lower limbs have not yet been assessed, or directly compared to exercise, and other cardiovascular effects of lower-limb heating have not been fully characterized. Lower-limb heating by hot-water immersion (30 min at 42°C, to the waist) was compared to matched-duration treadmill running (65-75% age-predicted heart rate maximum) in 10 healthy, young adult volunteers. Superficial femoral artery shear rate assessed immediately upon completion was increased to a greater extent following immersion (mean ± SD: immersion +252 ± 137% vs. exercise +155 ± 69%, interaction: p = 0.032), while superficial femoral artery flow-mediated dilation was unchanged in either intervention. Immersion increased heart rate to a lower peak than during exercise (immersion +38 ± 3 beats·min-1 vs. exercise +87 ± 3 beats·min-1, interaction: p < 0.001), whereas only immersion reduced mean arterial pressure after exposure (-8 ± 3 mmHg, p = 0.012). Core temperature increased twice as much during immersion as exercise (+1.3 ± 0.4°C vs. +0.6 ± 0.4°C, p < 0.001). These data indicate that acute lower-limb hot-water immersion has potential to induce favorable shear stress patterns and cardiovascular responses within vessels prone to atherosclerosis. Whether repetition of lower-limb heating has long-term beneficial effects in such vasculature remains unexplored.
Keywords: acute exercise; immersion; lower-limb heating; passive heat; shear stress.