Cerebral Blood Flow Responses to Aquatic Treadmill Exercise

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Abstract

Introduction

Aquatic treadmills are used as a rehabilitation method for conditions such as spinal cord injury, osteoarthritis, and stroke, and can facilitate an earlier return to exercise training for athletes. However, their effect on cerebral blood flow (CBF) responses has not been examined. We tested the hypothesis that aquatic treadmill exercise would augment CBF and lower HR compared with land-based treadmill exercise.

Methods

Eleven participants completed incremental exercise (crossover design) starting from walking pace (4 km·h−1, immersed to iliac crest [aquatic], 6 km·h−1 [land]) and increasing 1 km·h−1 every 2 min up to 10 km·h−1 for aquatic (maximum belt speed) or 12 km·h−1 for land. After this, participants completed two 2-min bouts of exercise immersed to midthigh and midchest at constant submaximal speed (aquatic), or were ramped to exhaustion (land; increased gradient 2° every min). Middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity (MCAv) and HR were measured throughout, and the initial 10 min of each protocol and responses at each immersion level were compared.

Results

Compared with land-based treadmill, MCAvmean increased more from baseline for aquatic exercise (21% vs 12%, P < 0.001), while being associated with lower overall HR (pooled difference, 11 bpm; P < 0.001). MCAvmean increased similarly during aquatic walking compared with land-based moderate intensity running (~10 cm·s−1, P = 0.56). Greater water immersion lowered HR (139 vs 178 bpm for midchest vs midthigh), whereas MCAvmean remained constant (P = 0.37).

Conclusion

Findings illustrate the potential for aquatic treadmill exercise to enhance exercise-induced elevations in CBF and thus optimize shear stress–mediated adaptation of the cerebrovasculature.

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