The Short & Long-Term Effects of Exercise on the Cardiovascular System

Man doing the exercise for his arms image by Elzbieta Sekowska from

The Family Doctor website recommends that individuals try to exercise at least four times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time. Exercising helps to ease stress and anxiety as well as enhance energy and endurance.

Besides serving as a mood enhancer, physical activity has short- and long-term effects on one's cardiovascular system.

Heart Rate

Man on the exercise bike image by Elzbieta Sekowska from

Many short-term effects take place during physical activity. Before a person starts exercising, the body undergoes an anticipatory response. During the anticipatory response, the body releases adrenalin even before a person starts to sweat. A normal, healthy heart rate of an adult at rest is between 60 to 80 beats to minute. During exercise, the heart rate temporarily increases according to intensity level until it hits a plateau.

Stroke Volume

On the onset of exercise, stroke volume--the amount of blood dispersed per beat out of the left ventricle--increases. Stroke volume is measured in millilitres per beat. During physical activity, stroke volume can increase anywhere from 60 to 110 millilitres, depending on intensity.

Blood Flow

Another short-term effect of the circulatory system during exercise is how blood is delivered throughout the body. When a person is at rest, only about 15 per cent of the blood flowing through the body is carried to the skeletal muscles. However, during physical activity, the body reroutes the majority of the blood from the major organs to the skeletal muscles as well as to the skin.

Blood Pressure

A person's blood pressure is temporarily affected during exercise. A healthy person normally has a systolic blood pressure of 110 to 140 millimetres of mercury. While exercising, a person's systolic blood pressure may reach levels of more than 200 millimetres of mercury.

Effect on the Heart

Exercise also has long-term effects on the circulatory system. Resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, allows the heart's walls to grow stronger and thicker. Endurance exercises, such as swimming, improves muscle strength and stamina. Over time, endurance exercise aids in increasing the size of the ventricle, which in turn allows more blood to flow through the body. When more blood flows through the body, the heart is not forced to work as hard, even when resting.

Other Long-Term Effects

According to the Texas Heart Institute website, exercise has other long-term effects on the cardiovascular system. Regular physical activity aids in increasing the number of red-blood cells and capillaries, the tiny blood vessels in the body. Exercise also gradually diminishes stress-related hormones from circulating in the blood. This enhances the blood vessel lining, which in turn lowers the risk for the build up of plaque that can lead to coronary disease.