Purpose: This study aimed to investigate localized and systemic effects of chronic exercise and inactivity on conduit artery remodeling in humans.
Methods: We recruited elite athletes engaged in predominantly lower limb (LL runners/cyclists, n = 10) or upper limb (UL canoe paddlers, n = 12) exercise and matched able-bodied, recreationally active, controls (C, n = 16). We also studied wheelchair controls (spinal cord injury, n = 9) and athletes (spinal cord injury, n = 1; spina bifida, n = 4). Carotid, brachial, and superficial femoral (SF) artery diameter and wall thickness were assessed using high-resolution ultrasound.
Results: Brachial diameters were significantly larger in UL and wheelchair users (athletes and controls) compared with C (both P < 0.05). SF artery diameter in wheelchair controls was significantly smaller compared with the other groups, with LL athletes having significantly greater lumen diameter than controls (both P < 0.05). In all arteries, a lower wall thickness was found in able-bodied athletes compared with C, including wheelchair athletes compared with wheelchair controls (P < 0.001). In the SF artery, wall-to-lumen-ratio was significantly lower in able-bodied athletes and higher in wheelchair controls compared with able-bodied controls (P < 0.001). In the brachial and carotid arteries, able-bodied and wheelchair athletes demonstrated lower wall-to-lumen-ratio than less active wheelchair controls and able-bodied controls (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: These findings suggest that remodeling of the arterial wall occurs systemically in response to exercise training and is unrelated to exercise type in humans. Conversely, localized effects are evident with respect to the effect of exercise on arterial diameter. These findings have implications for our understanding of the effects of exercise on arterial structure and function in humans.