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Decline in large elastic artery compliance with age: a therapeutic target for habitual exercise
  1. P E Gates1,
  2. D R Seals2
  1. 1School for Health, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK
  2. 2Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 P E Gates
 School for Health, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK; p.gates{at}

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Aerobic exercise can favourably modify arterial compliance in middle-aged and older adults

Cardiovascular diseases are prevalent in industrialised societies, and age is the dominant risk factor for morbidity and mortality.1 Consequently, a primary public health concern is to understand the mechanisms by which ageing is associated with cardiovascular diseases and to establish appropriate prevention and intervention strategies. One putative mechanism that has emerged as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease is the age-associated decline in large artery compliance.2,3 This single degenerative alteration to the vasculature has profound effects on cardiovascular health, contributing to increased systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure, isolated systolic hypertension, reduced cardiovagal baroreflex sensitivity, increased aortic input impedance, left ventricular hypertrophy and diastolic dysfunction, atherosclerosis, and congestive heart failure.1–4 As such, the age-associated decline in arterial compliance is an important therapeutic target for habitual physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The purpose of this article is to highlight recent studies from our laboratory and other peer-reviewed literature that provide compelling experimental evidence that aerobic exercise can favourably modify arterial compliance in middle-aged and older adults.5–8 We will also present evidence suggesting that resistance training is potentially detrimental to arterial compliance unless combined with aerobic exercise.


Arterial compliance (and its inverse, arterial stiffness) describes the ability of an artery to distend in response to a change in intravascular (transmural) pressure. By distending and recoiling, the large “elastic” arteries in the cardiothoracic region—for example, aorta and carotid arteries—function to buffer the oscillation in blood pressure caused by ventricular pumping, and help to convert intermittent blood flow from the ventricle into continuous blood flow in the vasculature.9 This compliant property of the artery is typically determined by simultaneous measurements of changes in arterial blood pressure and volume during the …

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  • Published Online First 5 September 2006

  • Funding: NIH awards AG006537, AG013038, AG022241 and RR-00051.

  • Competing interests: None declared.