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Cerebrovasc Dis. 2013;35(4):303-12. doi: 10.1159/000347061. Epub 2013 Apr 10.

Train the vessel, gain the brain: physical activity and vessel function and the impact on stroke prevention and outcome in cerebrovascular disease.

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  • 1Center for Stroke Research Berlin (CSB), Charit√© University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany. wolf.schmidt@charite.de


The burden of cerebrovascular disease (CVD) is huge and therapeutic options are limited. Physical activity is effective in preventing coronary heart and peripheral artery disease both experimentally and clinically. It is likely that the protective effects of exercise can be extended to both CVD and cognitive impairment. The pleiotropic protective and preventive mechanisms induced by physical activity include increased perfusion as well as mechanisms of collateral recruitment and neovascularization mediated by arterio- and angiogenesis. Physical activity increases the bioavailability of nitric oxide, bone marrow-derived CD34+ cells and growth factors, all of which promote neovascularization. Additionally, shear stress is discussed as a potential mechanism for vessel growth. Moreover, physical activity plays a role in endothelial function and cerebral autoregulation in small- and large-artery CVD. The vascular niche hypothesis highlights the complex interactions of neuro- and angiogenesis for regenerative and repair mechanisms in the human brain. Experimental and clinical studies demonstrate the positive impact of prior physical activity on stroke lesion size and on outcome after stroke. Clinical trials are necessary to further address the impact of physical activity on primary and secondary stroke prevention, outcome and cognitive function.

Copyright © 2013 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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