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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):1072-9. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181923957.

Brachial artery blood flow responses to different modalities of lower limb exercise.

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Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, Henry Cotton Campus, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, United Kingdom.



Cycling is associated with a reproducible systolic anterograde and diastolic retrograde flow pattern in the brachial artery (BA) of the inactive upper limb, which results in endothelial nitric oxide (NO) release. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of different types and intensities of lower limb exercise on the BA flow pattern.


We examined BA blood flow and shear rate patterns during cycling, leg kicking, and walking exercise in 12 young subjects (24 +/- 3 yr). BA diameter, blood flow, and shear rate were assessed at baseline (1 min) and at three incremental intensity levels of cycling (60, 80, and 120 W), bilateral leg kicking (5, 7.5, and 10 kg), and walking (3, 4, and 5 km x h(-1)), performed for 3 min each. Edge detection and wall tracking of high-resolution B-mode arterial ultrasound images, combined with synchronized Doppler waveform envelope analysis, were used to calculate conduit artery diameter and anterograde/retrograde blood flow and shear rate continuously across the cardiac cycle.


BA mean blood flow and shear rate increased significantly throughout each exercise protocol (P < 0.001), and BA anterograde blood flow and shear rate showed comparable increases throughout each protocol (P < 0.001). Retrograde blood flow and shear rate, however, demonstrated a significant increase during cycling and walking (P < 0.001) but not during leg kicking.


Rhythmic lower limb exercise (cycling and walking) results in an increase in BA systolic anterograde blood flow and shear rate, directly followed by a large retrograde flow and shear rate. This typical pattern, previously linked with endothelial NO release, is not present during a different type of exercise such as leg kicking.

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