Vascular conductance (VC) regulation involves a continuous balance between metabolic vasodilation and sympathetic vasoconstriction. Endurance exercise challenges the sympathetic control on VC due to attenuated sympathetic receptor responsiveness and persistence of muscle vasodilation, especially in endurance athletes, predisposing them to blood pressure control dysfunctions. This study assessed whether acute handgrip-mediated sympathetic activation (SYMP) restrains sudden leg vasodilation before and after a half-marathon. Prior to, and within the 20 min following the race, 11 well-trained runners underwent two single passive leg movement (SPLM) tests to suddenly induce leg vasodilation, one without and the other during SYMP. Leg blood flow and mean arterial pressure were measured to assess changes in leg VC. Undertaking 60 sec of SYMP reduced the baseline leg VC both before (4.0 ± 1.0 vs. 3.3 ± 0.7 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.01; NO SYMP vs. SYMP, respectively) and after the race (4.6 ± 0.8 vs. 3.9 ± 0.8 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.01). However, SYMP did not reduce leg peak vasodilation immediately after the SPLM either before (11.5 ± 4.0 vs. 12.2 ± 3.8 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.35) or after the race (7.2 ± 2.0 vs. 7.3 ± 2.6 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.96). Furthermore, SYMP did not blunt the mean leg vasodilation over the 60 sec after the SPLM before (5.1 ± 1.7 vs. 5.9 ± 2.5 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.14) or after the race (4.8 ± 1.3 vs. 4.2 ± 1.5 ml/min/mmHg; P=0.26). This data suggest that the release of local vasoactive agents effectively opposes any preceding handgrip-mediated augmented vasoconstriction in endurance athletes before and after a half-marathon. Handgrip-mediated SYMP might improve normal vasoconstriction while athletes are still, but not necessarily while they move, as movements can induce a release of vasoactive molecules.
Keywords: acute sympathetic activation; endurance exercise; handgrip exercise; leg vasodilation; passive leg movement.