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Front Physiol. 2013 Nov 7;4:314. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00314.

Cardiovascular reactivity, stress, and physical activity.

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1
Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton , FL, USA.

Abstract

Psychological stress has been proposed as a major contributor to the progression of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Acute mental stress can activate the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis, eliciting the release of catecholamines (NE and EPI) resulting in the elevation of heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP). Combined stress (psychological and physical) can exacerbate these cardiovascular responses, which may partially contribute to the elevated risk of CVD and increased proportionate mortality risks experienced by some occupations (e.g., firefighting and law enforcement). Studies have supported the benefits of physical activity on physiological and psychological health, including the cardiovascular response to acute stress. Aerobically trained individuals exhibit lower sympathetic nervous system (e.g., HR) reactivity and enhanced cardiovascular efficiency (e.g., lower vascular reactivity and decreased recovery time) in response to physical and/or psychological stress. In addition, resistance training has been demonstrated to attenuate cardiovascular responses and improve mental health. This review will examine stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity and plausible explanations for how exercise training and physical fitness (aerobic and resistance exercise) can attenuate cardiovascular responses to stress. This enhanced functionality may facilitate a reduction in the incidence of stroke and myocardial infarction. Finally, this review will also address the interaction of obesity and physical activity on cardiovascular reactivity and CVD.

KEYWORDS:

inflammation; microvascular reactivity; obesity; oxidative stress; physical activity; psychological stress; resistance exercise; stress hormones

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