Effects of regular exercise on vascular function with aging: Does sex matter?

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2024 Jan 1;326(1):H123-H137. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00392.2023. Epub 2023 Nov 3.


Vascular aging, featuring endothelial dysfunction and large elastic artery stiffening, is a major risk factor for the development of age-associated cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Vascular aging is largely mediated by an excessive production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and increased inflammation leading to reduced bioavailability of the vasodilatory molecule nitric oxide and remodeling of the arterial wall. Other cellular mechanisms (i.e., mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired stress response, deregulated nutrient sensing, cellular senescence), termed "hallmarks" or "pillars" of aging, may also contribute to vascular aging. Gonadal aging, which largely impacts women but also impacts some men, modulates the vascular aging process. Regular physical activity, including both aerobic and resistance exercise, is a first-line strategy for reducing CVD risk with aging. Although exercise is an effective intervention to counter vascular aging, there is considerable variation in the vascular response to exercise training with aging. Aerobic exercise improves large elastic artery stiffening in both middle-aged/older men and women and enhances endothelial function in middle-aged/older men by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation and preserving nitric oxide bioavailability; however, similar aerobic exercise training improvements are not consistently observed in estrogen-deficient postmenopausal women. Sex differences in adaptations to exercise may be related to gonadal aging and declines in estrogen in women that influence cellular-molecular mechanisms, disconnecting favorable signaling in the vasculature induced by exercise training. The present review will summarize the current state of knowledge on vascular adaptations to regular aerobic and resistance exercise with aging, the underlying mechanisms involved, and the moderating role of biological sex.

Keywords: aging; arterial stiffness; endothelial function; inflammation; oxidative stress; women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Endothelium, Vascular
  • Estrogens
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Vascular Stiffness* / physiology


  • Nitric Oxide
  • Estrogens