Effects of exercise training with blood flow restriction on vascular function in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

PeerJ. 2021 Jul 7;9:e11554. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11554. eCollection 2021.


Background: Blood flow restricted exercise (BFRE) improves physical fitness, with theorized positive effects on vascular function. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to report (1) the effects of BFRE on vascular function in adults with or without chronic health conditions, and (2) adverse events and adherence reported for BFRE.

Methodology: Five electronic databases were searched by two researchers independently to identify studies reporting vascular outcomes following BFRE in adults with and without chronic conditions. When sufficient data were provided, meta-analysis and exploratory meta-regression were performed.

Results: Twenty-six studies were included in the review (total participants n = 472; n = 41 older adults with chronic conditions). Meta-analysis (k = 9 studies) indicated that compared to exercise without blood flow restriction, resistance training with blood flow restriction resulted in significantly greater effects on endothelial function (SMD 0.76; 95% CI [0.36-1.14]). No significant differences were estimated for changes in vascular structure (SMD -0.24; 95% CI [-1.08 to 0.59]). In exploratory meta-regression analyses, several experimental protocol factors (design, exercise modality, exercised limbs, intervention length and number of sets per exercise) were significantly associated with the effect size for endothelial function outcomes. Adverse events in BFRE studies were rarely reported.

Conclusion: There is limited evidence, predominantly available in healthy young adults, on the effect of BFRE on vascular function. Signals pointing to effect of specific dynamic resistance exercise protocols with blood flow restriction (≥4 weeks with exercises for the upper and lower limbs) on endothelial function warrant further investigation.

Keywords: Exercise; Ischemia; Vascular endothelium; Vascular occlusion; Vascular stiffness.

Grants and funding

Elisio A. Pereira-Neto was supported by a University of South Australia and Australian Technology Network PhD scholarship funding. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.