Visual Abstract

Introduction: Regular physical activity is recommended to minimize health risk. However, the upper intensity threshold associated with the best health outcomes is difficult to be determined. Water polo (WP) Olympic athletes present unique characteristics such as high-intensity exercise, long training sessions, and a combination of endurance and strength training. Therefore, we examined in which way the long-term, intense, mixed endurance and strength training affects the peripheral and central hemodynamics. Methods: The study population consisted of 20 WP Olympic team players, 20 matched recreationally active (RA) subjects, and 20 sedentary control subjects (Cl). Reflected waves were assessed with the augmentation index (AIx), central aortic stiffness with pulse wave velocity (PWV), and endothelial function with flow-mediated dilation (FMD). Results: Amongst Cl subjects, RA subjects, and WP players, there was no difference in age (p = 0.33) as well as in brachial systolic pressure (p = 0.52), while there was a stepwise decrease in aortic systolic pressure (116 ± 16 mm Hg vs. 107 ± 14 mm Hg vs. 106 ± 6 mm Hg, p = 0.03). There was also a stepwise improvement in AIx (–4.22 ± 9.97% vs. –6.97 ± 11.28% vs. –12.14 ± 6.62%, p = 0.03) and FMD (6.61 ± 1.78% vs. 7.78 ± 1.98% vs. 8.3 ± 2.05%, p = 0.04) according to the intensity of exercise, with WP players having lower AIx and higher FMD compared to RA subjects and Cl subjects. No difference was found in PWV (Cl: 5.88 ± 0.72 m/s vs. RA: 6.04 ± 0.75 m/s vs. WP: 5.97 ± 1.09 m/s, p = 0.82) among the three studied groups. Conclusions: Young WP Olympic team players depict improved arterial wall properties and endothelial function compared to RA and Cl subjects.

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