Long-term aerobic exercise improves vascular function into old age: a systematic review, meta-analysis and meta regression of observational and interventional studies

Amy Campbell, Fergal Grace, Louise Ritchie, Alexander Beaumont, Nick Sculthorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

3 Citations (Scopus)
116 Downloads (Pure)


There is an emerging body of literature relating to the effectiveness of frequent aerobic exercise as a prophylactic for age-associated dysfunction of large arteries, yet systematic evaluation and precise estimate of this effect is unknown.
We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled studies examining flow mediated dilatation (FMD) of athletic older persons and otherwise healthy sedentary counterparts to (i) compare FMD as a determinant of endothelial function between athletes and sedentary (ii) summarise the effect of exercise training on FMD in studies of sedentary ageing persons. Studies were identified from systematic search of major electronic databases from inception to January 2018. Study quality was assessed before conducting a random effects meta-analysis to calculate a pooled ES (mean difference) with 95% CI’s. Thirteen studies [10 cross-sectional (n=485); 4 intervention (n=125] with age ranges from 62-75 years underwent quantitative pooling of data. 
Older athletes had more favourable FMD compared with sedentary controls (2.1%; CI:1.4%, 2.8%; P<0.001). There was no significant improvement in the vascular function of sedentary cohorts following a period of exercise training (0.7%; CI: -0.675%, 2.09%; P=0.316). However, there was a significant increase in baseline diameter from pre to post intervention (0.098%; CI: 0.066%, 0.130%; P<0.001). In addition, there was no significant difference in endothelial independent vasodilation between the trained and sedentary older adults (1.57%; CI: -0.13%, 3.27%; P=0.07), or from pre to post exercise intervention (1.48%; CI: -1.34%, 4.3%; P=0.3).
In conclusion, long-term aerobic exercise appears to attenuate the decline in endothelial vascular function, a benefit which is maintained during chronological ageing. However, currently there is not enough evidence to suggest that exercise interventions improve vascular function in previously sedentary healthy older adults.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages37
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Early online date26 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2019



  • Exercise
  • Flow mediated dilation
  • Healthy older adults
  • Vascular aging
  • Vascular function

Cite this