How Exercise Affects Circulation


Keeping your cardiovascular system working at an optimal capacity is vital to a productive, functional and energetic lifestyle. Unobstructed blood circulation to the cells of your brain and heart is essential for reducing your risk of a stroke and a heart attack. Adopting a regular program of resistance and aerobic exercise into your weekly schedule enhances your circulation.

During One Bout of Exercise

  • As you begin to do resistance or aerobic exercise, your muscles require more oxygen and fuel compared to their needs at rest. There are sensors in your heart, blood vessels, blood, muscles and joints that stimulate your nervous system to increase your heart rate, increase the strength of your heart’s contraction and direct more blood to your working muscles. The walls of the arterioles in your working muscles expand to allow for more blood flow, while the walls of the arterioles in your abdominal cavity contract, decreasing blood flow; arterioles are tiny branches of your arteries. The more quickly your heart can transport blood to get rid of carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen, the better your muscles can perform the exercise you want to do.

Adaptations from Exercise

  • Your heart rate is the number of beats completed by your heart in one minute. Stroke volume is the amount of blood the left chamber of your heart, the left ventricle, pumps out in one heart beat and is normally measured in milliliters. If you do not exercise regularly, your heart rate is about 70 beats per minute and your stroke volume is around 71 milliliters of blood per beat, according to William McArdle and colleagues, in their book, "Exercise Physiology, Energy, Nutrition & Human Performance;" 71 milliliters is just under one third of a cup. Regular aerobic exercise makes your heart muscle thinner and more elastic so it can fill up with more blood then pump more blood per beat. This reduces the total number of beats it takes to pump the same volume of blood during exercise and even at rest. Your resting heart rate will be lower as a result, such as 50 beats per minute with a stroke volume of 100 milliliters, writes McArdle.

Improved Blood Vessel Health

  • Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted on your arteries when the left ventricle expels blood. Plaque buildup on the walls of your arteries causes your arteries to become stiff. When your arteries are stiff, they are unable to expand and contract properly to push blood to all parts of your body. Excessive plaque buildup in arteries and arterioles will eventually reduce or prevent the circulation of blood to the corresponding organs, tissues and cells. Aerobic exercise reduces the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood and increases the amount of good cholesterol. This means there will be less plaque buildup on your arteries, thus improving blood circulation and improving your blood pressure.

Enhanced Venous Return

  • There is not as much pressure in your veins as there is in your arteries. While veins are equipped with valves to prevent blood from flowing back down, the contraction of your skeletal muscles is also necessary to prevent backward circulation. If you stand in the same position for a long time or switch from a sitting to standing position, blood can collect in your veins. This pooling decreases the amount of blood that goes back to your heart, thus decreasing the amount of blood circulating in your body, including to your brain. Short- and long-term resistance and aerobic exercise enhances your body’s natural pump, minimizing complications from blood pooling in the legs.

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