Date Published: 7 August 2017

Benefits of interval training for vascular health of older women

A recent research study1 using data from 15 women has found that interval exercise, meaning exercise in a series of relatively short but at least moderately intense sessions, might be particularly beneficial for post-menopausal women. The study investigated the effects of both continuous and interval exercise on angiogenic cells which support the growth of blood vessels.

Post-menopausal women were of particular interest to the researchers because the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease) in women is thought to increase as oestrogen levels fall, potentially leading to the body's natural repair mechanisms becoming less sensitive. Reduction in hormone levels together with increasing age is associated with a reduction in the number of angiogenic cells, i.e. 'monocyte-like cells that appear to stimulate angiogenesis through secretion of growth factors'2. This matters because previous research has linked low levels of angiogenic cells and a reduction in their function with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. A reduction in their ability to form colonies has been associated with increased risk of developing coronary artery disease. There is therefore medical interest in how best to encourage and support the efficient operation of remaining angiogenic cells in the best interests of older women's heart and blood vessel health.

The researchers found that although neither continuous or interval exercise increased the actual number of angiogenic cells in the blood, interval exercise encouraged greater function of those cells already in circulation and stimulated their ability to form colonies which can improve blood vessel growth and repair. Their results indicated that specifically in terms of increasing angiogenic cell activity in the women who participated in the study, just one session of interval exercise was more effective than 30 minutes of moderate intensity continuous exercise.

Although exercise has long been recommended for postmenopausal women, this has been described3 as the first study to link certain types of exercise to the activities of angiogenic cells.

Dr Karen Birch from Leeds University, who led the research project, said:

" We believe the body's greater exertion at the higher work rates during interval exercise stimulates the cells in circulation, so when they gather they become a powerful force in the body's ability to decrease the risk of vascular disease.

_ This is the first study to link interval type exercise and angiogenic cell activity, but our findings suggest health professionals could advise postmenopausal women to try exercise in short bursts of activity followed by periods of rest, if they need to concentrate on improving their heart and blood vessels.

_ We would like to see greater use of individualised exercise prescriptions for women needing to improve this area of their health."

Dr Birch added:

" We have to be realistic that not all older women are likely to launch into a high-intensity interval exercise regime. Our advice to women is try to adapt existing ways of exercising to become more intense, but still at a level they feel comfortable with. Remember intervals can be short bursts of fast walking or short bursts of a jog. In other words a bit harder than a person usually undertakes. "


  1. Harris E, Rakobowchuk M, Birch KM, "Interval exercise increases angiogenic cell function in postmenopausal women", BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, Vol.3, Issue 1, 2017. DOI: 10.1136/bmjsem-2017-000248
  2. Shepherd RM, "Angiogenic cells can be rapidly mobilized and efficiently harvested from the blood following treatment with AMD3100", Blood, 108(12): 3662??3667, 2006. DOI: 10.1182/blood-2006-06-030577

Source: Leeds University, England (UK)

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