Review Article

European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 110, Issue 2, pp 235-246

First online:

Evidence for sex differences in cardiovascular aging and adaptive responses to physical activity

  • Beth A. ParkerAffiliated withDepartment of Preventive Cardiology, Hartford Hospital
  • , Martha J. KalaskyAffiliated with105 Noll Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University
  • , David N. ProctorAffiliated with105 Noll Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University Email author 

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There are considerable data addressing sex-related differences in cardiovascular system aging and disease risk/progression. Sex differences in cardiovascular aging are evident during resting conditions, exercise, and other acute physiological challenges (e.g., orthostasis). In conjunction with these sex-related differences—or perhaps even as an underlying cause—the impact of cardiorespiratory fitness and/or physical activity on the aging cardiovascular system also appears to be sex-specific. Potential mechanisms contributing to sex-related differences in cardiovascular aging and adaptability include changes in sex hormones with age as well as sex differences in baseline fitness and the dose of activity needed to elicit cardiovascular adaptations. The purpose of the present paper is thus to review the primary research regarding sex-specific plasticity of the cardiovascular system to fitness and physical activity in older adults. Specifically, the paper will (1) briefly review known sex differences in cardiovascular aging, (2) detail emerging evidence regarding observed cardiovascular outcomes in investigations of exercise and physical activity in older men versus women, (3) explore mechanisms underlying the differing adaptations to exercise and habitual activity in men versus women, and (4) discuss implications of these findings with respect to chronic disease risk and exercise prescription.


Gender differences Cardiorespiratory fitness Exercise Cardiovascular risk