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On the 400th anniversary of Harvey’s Lumleian lectures, this review focuses on “hemodynamic” forces associated with the movement of blood through arteries in humans and the functional and structural adaptations that result from repeated episodic exposure to such stimuli. The late 20th century discovery that endothelial cells modify arterial tone via paracrine transduction provoked studies exploring the direct mechanical effects of blood flow and pressure on vascular function and adaptation in vivo. In this review, we address the impact of distinct hemodynamic signals that occur in response to exercise, the interrelationships between these signals, the nature of the adaptive responses that manifest under different physiological conditions, and the implications for human health. Exercise modifies blood flow, luminal shear stress, arterial pressure, and tangential wall stress, all of which can transduce changes in arterial function, diameter, and wall thickness. There are important clinical implications of the adaptation that occurs as a consequence of repeated hemodynamic stimulation associated with exercise training in humans, including impacts on atherosclerotic risk in conduit arteries, the control of blood pressure in resistance vessels, oxygen delivery and diffusion, and microvascular health. Exercise training studies have demonstrated that direct hemodynamic impacts on the health of the artery wall contribute to the well-established decrease in cardiovascular risk attributed to physical activity.
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