What Is the Relationship between the Circulatory System and Exercise?

M.C. Huguelet

While most people are aware that exercise is good for health, many do not know exactly why getting physical boosts one’s well-being. In fact, this increased healthiness is largely due to the connection between the circulatory system and exercise. Regular physical activity improves the circulatory system’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood throughout the body, in turn enhancing the body’s ability to perform physical tasks. Another important connection between the circulatory system and exercise is the ability of exercise to lower cholesterol and strengthen the heart, thereby reducing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

The circulatory system.
The circulatory system.

One of the main tasks of the circulatory system is circulating oxygen-rich blood around the body, and simultaneously returning depleted blood to the lungs to be “recharged” with oxygen. This system is made up of three main components: the heart, the blood, and the blood vessels, including veins, arteries, and capillaries. During exercise, the body’s oxygen needs increase. Thus, the most fundamental connection between the circulatory system and exercise is that when one engages in physical activity, the circulatory system must work harder than usual to supply the body’s cells with enough oxygen.

The structure of the aorta, part of the circulatory system.
The structure of the aorta, part of the circulatory system.

With regular physical activity, the connection between the circulatory system and exercise deepens. Over time, consistently working the circulatory system at a heightened rate causes the heart muscle to become stronger, promotes capillary growth, and leads to an increased number of red blood cells. All of these changes make the circulatory system function more efficiently, allowing it to deliver a greater amount of oxygen to the cells than it once could while demanding less energy than it formerly needed. It is this increased circulatory efficiency that causes an exerciser’s level of breathlessness to decline with regular workouts.

A person with visible blood vessels, which are part of the circulatory system.
A person with visible blood vessels, which are part of the circulatory system.

Yet another connection between the circulatory system and exercise has potentially important ramifications for one’s cardiovascular health. In addition to strengthening the heart, an effect which can lower the risk of heart attack, regular exercise also appears to reduce bodily levels of unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Researchers believe that exercise reduces LDL cholesterol levels by improving the circulatory system’s ability to move this cholesterol out of the bloodstream and into the liver, where it is broken down and ejected from the body. Reducing one’s LDL cholesterol level can significantly lower the risk of stroke, thus making exercise an important weapon both for those with a history of cardiovascular disease, and those who wish to lower their chances of future cardiovascular problems.

A woman exercising.
A woman exercising.

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