Recent Advances in Exercise and Arterial Stiffness: A Symposium Reflection

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Recent Advances in Exercise and Arterial Stiffness: A Symposium Reflection

Kalen A. Johnson, M.S. |  Nov. 20, 2018

This is part eleven, and the final installment, in a series of blogs from attendees at ACSM's Conference on Integrative Physiology of Exercise. The following blog is a reflection on the symposium titled "Recent Advances in Exercise and Arterial Stiffness." 

The first scientific conference I ever attended made me consider quitting graduate school. Everyone was speaking English, but I was convinced that I was the only one who couldn’t speak or understand the language of physiology. Thankfully, I didn’t quit and continued to attend conferences. Each time I do, it gets easier to understand and engage in the conversations about what is new in the world of exercise physiology. I’m entering my second year as a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science, and 2018 was my first time attending ACSM’s Conference on Integrative Physiology of Exercise. My current research focus is on vascular health/function, so I was thrilled to see a symposium on Exercise and Arterial Stiffness!

I love the cardiovascular (CV) system with all my heart (no pun intended) for many reasons, not the least of which are the redundancies that collaborate to keep us alive, oxygenated and able to run, lift or play. The entire system is an intricate dance constantly striving to combat every assault thrown its way, from Type II diabetes to obesity to aging. Arterial stiffness is a problem for many different people and for diverse reasons, and each symposium speaker had a unique contribution to the intricate puzzle we call the CV system.

Rong Zhang, Ph.D., of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, presented that his cerebral research witnesses not only an increase in vascular damage with aging, but also mitigation of this damage and a 50 percent decrease in the incidence of dementia from walking about two miles per day. You read me correctly—just walking provides this benefit! Though disease and aging have modified the standard signaling and function of the cerebral vasculature, something as simple as walking enables another redundant system to take over and battle arterial stiffness. 

Douglas Seals, Ph.D., University of Colorado – Boulder, brought up the ever-present “vicious cycle” that is so detrimental to the CV system. A few mitochondria step out of line and BAM! You’ve got endothelial damage, arterial stiffness and CV disease. I do like to think, though, that there can also be a “viciously good cycle” brought about by chronic exercise and, as Dr. Seals suggests, certain nutriceuticals. 

Martin Shultz, Ph.D., of the University of Tasmania, dove into exercise hypertension hemodynamics and discussed measuring blood pressure in order to recognize exercise hypertension; it is normally pretty sneaky and hard to find in resting individuals. His clinical perspective on the CV system was refreshing to me since I work in isolated animal vessels and sometimes forget that all my efforts are in hopes of eventually helping people, not just the pigs (who devote their lives to good CV research and delicious bacon).

What stood out to me the most was the lecture from Kerrie Moreau, Ph.D., from the University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus. Maybe it’s because I am a woman, but I geek out over sex-related differences in physiology. I’ve heard, and you probably have too, that the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been decreasing over the past few years, which is awesome no matter how you look at it. However, I was surprised to see that the observed decreases have been primarily in men, and though women’s rates of CVD are lower anyway, they’ve stayed consistent over the years. I was even more surprised to see that there may be sex differences between exercise improvements in endothelial function and arterial compliance. There are some studies that have shown improvement in measures of arterial stiffening with exercise in postmenopausal women, but where we see diminished benefit is at the endothelial level. That is, estrogen-deficient postmenopausal women have diminished and even absent responses compared to men. Dr. Moreau presented data from several studies concerning this and the importance of estrogen in vascular response to exercise, which I hope to pursue and implement into my own future studies.

As a student and young researcher, it is exciting to get a glimpse of all we have left to discover and, as a woman, it is exciting to see my own physiology represented in research when it is found to be unique compared to a man’s. This may be my first IPE, but it definitely won’t be my last!

Read part 1 of this series: "Can Exercise Fill the Reductionist Gap? Reflections on Dr. Michael Joyner's Keynote."
Read part 2 of this series: "Are Exercise 'Mimetics' a Realistic Substitute for Exercise Training? Reflections on the Debate." 
Read part 3 of this series: "Exercise and Energy Restriction to Improve Health: Recent Research." 
Read part 4 of this series: "Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity (MoTrPac) Update." 
Read part 5 of this series: "Metabolic Flexibility in Health & Disease: A Symposium Summary." 
Read part 6 of this series: "How Exercise Promotes Brain Health in Aging." 
Read part 7 of this series: "Molecular Transducers of Exercise-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy: A Symposium Summary." 
Read part 8 of this series: "Exercise Pressor Reflex Function in Health and Disease." 
Read part 9 of this series: "Do Genetics Influence Exercise Capacity and Trainability?" 
Read part 10 of this series: "Is Mitochondrial Respiration a Limiting Factor of Oxidative Metabolism: A Symposium Reflection." 

Kalen A. Johnson, M.S. is a Biomedical Sciences PhD student in the Coronary Physiology lab in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology at Texas A&M University. She is also a graduate research assistant.