Impact of lifelong exercise training on endothelial ischemia-reperfusion and ischemic preconditioning in humans

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017 May 1;312(5):R828-R834. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00466.2016. Epub 2017 Mar 15.


Reperfusion is essential for ischemic tissue survival, but causes additional damage to the endothelium [i.e., ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury]. Ischemic preconditioning (IPC) refers to short repetitive episodes of ischemia that can protect against I/R. However, IPC efficacy attenuates with older age. Whether physical inactivity contributes to the attenuated efficacy of IPC to protect against I/R injury in older humans is unclear. We tested the hypotheses that lifelong exercise training relates to 1) attenuated endothelial I/R and 2) maintained IPC efficacy that protects veteran athletes against endothelial I/R. In 18 sedentary male individuals (SED, <1 exercise h/wk for >20 yr, 63 ± 7 yr) and 20 veteran male athletes (ATH, >5 exercise h/wk for >20 yr, 63 ± 6 yr), we measured brachial artery endothelial function with flow-mediated dilation (FMD) before and after I/R. We induced I/R by 20 min of ischemia followed by 20 min of reperfusion. Randomized over 2 days, participants underwent either 35-min rest or IPC (3 cycles of 5-min cuff inflation to 220 mmHg with 5 min of rest) before I/R. In SED, FMD decreased after I/R [median (interquartile range)]: [3.0% (2.0-4.7) to 2.1% (1.5-3.9), P = 0.046] and IPC did not prevent this decline [4.1% (2.6-5.2) to 2.8% (2.2-3.6), P = 0.012]. In ATH, FMD was preserved after I/R [3.0% (1.7-5.4) to 3.0% (1.9-4.1), P = 0.82] and when IPC preceded I/R [3.2% (1.9-4.2) to 2.8% (1.4-4.6), P = 0.18]. These findings indicate that lifelong exercise training is associated with increased tolerance against endothelial I/R. These protective, preconditioning effects of lifelong exercise against endothelial I/R may contribute to the cardioprotective effects of exercise training.

Keywords: endothelial cell function; exercise physiology; flow-mediated dilation; ischemic preconditioning; vascular physiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology*
  • Exercise
  • Healthy Lifestyle*
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Preconditioning / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / methods*
  • Reperfusion Injury / physiopathology*
  • Reperfusion Injury / prevention & control*