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Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Feb;47(2):299-306. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000422.

The effect of water immersion during exercise on cerebral blood flow.

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1School of Sport Science, Exercise and Health, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, AUSTRALIA; 2Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM; 3Graduate School of Health Science, Kobe University, Hyogo Prefecture, JAPAN; and 4Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, NETHERLANDS.



Regular exercise induces recurrent increases in cerebrovascular perfusion. In peripheral arteries, such episodic increases in perfusion are responsible for improvement in arterial function and health. We examined the hypothesis that exercise during immersion augments cerebral blood flow velocity compared with intensity-matched land-based exercise.


Fifteen normotensive participants were recruited (26 ± 4 yr, 24.3 ± 1.9 kg·m). We continuously assessed mean arterial blood pressure, HR, stroke volume, oxygen consumption, and blood flow velocities through the middle and posterior cerebral arteries before, during, and after 20-min bouts of water- and land-based stepping exercise of matched intensity. The order in which the exercise conditions were performed was randomized between subjects. Water-based exercise was performed in 30°C water to the level of the right atrium.


The water- and land-based exercise bouts were closely matched for oxygen consumption (13.3 mL·kg·min (95% confidence interval (CI), 12.2-14.6) vs 13.5 mL·kg·min (95% CI, 12.1-14.8), P = 0.89) and HR (95 bpm (95% CI, 90-101) vs 96 bpm (95% CI, 91-102), P = 0.65). Compared with land-based exercise, water-based exercise induced an increase in middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity (74 cm·s (95% CI, 66-81) vs 67 cm·s (95% CI, 60-74) P < 0.001), posterior cerebral artery blood flow velocity (47 cm·s (95% CI, 40-53) vs 43 cm·s (95% CI, 37-49), P < 0.001), mean arterial blood pressure (106 mm Hg (95% CI, 100-111) vs 101 mm Hg (95% CI, 95-106), P < 0.001), and partial pressure of expired CO2 (P ≤ 0.001).


Our findings suggest that water-based exercise augments cerebral blood flow, relative to land-based exercise of similar intensity, in healthy humans.

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