Aerobic exercise training leads to cardiovascular changes that markedly increase aerobic power and lead to improved endurance performance. The functionally most important adaptation is the improvement in maximal cardiac output which is the result of an enlargement in cardiac dimension, improved contractility, and an increase in blood volume, allowing for greater filling of the ventricles and a consequent larger stroke volume. In parallel with the greater maximal cardiac output, the perfusion capacity of the muscle is increased, permitting for greater oxygen delivery. To accommodate the higher aerobic demands and perfusion levels, arteries, arterioles, and capillaries adapt in structure and number. The diameters of the larger conduit and resistance arteries are increased minimizing resistance to flow as the cardiac output is distributed in the body and the wall thickness of the conduit and resistance arteries is reduced, a factor contributing to increased arterial compliance. Endurance training may also induce alterations in the vasodilator capacity, although such adaptations are more pronounced in individuals with reduced vascular function. The microvascular net increases in size within the muscle allowing for an improved capacity for oxygen extraction by the muscle through a greater area for diffusion, a shorter diffusion distance, and a longer mean transit time for the erythrocyte to pass through the smallest blood vessels. The present article addresses the effect of endurance training on systemic and peripheral cardiovascular adaptations with a focus on humans, but also covers animal data. © 2016 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 6:1-32, 2016.
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