Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Exercise Science


Kevin S. Heffernan


Arterial stiffness, Cognitive function, Exercise, Hypertension

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences


The presence of hypertension in middle-age is a major risk factor for later-life development of cognitive and cardiovascular disease. Exercise is widely recommended to combat vascular and brain aging in hypertension. We sought to compare the effects of a single bout of aerobic exercise on 1) arterial stiffness and cerebral hemodynamics and 2) cognitive function in middle-aged adults with controlled-hypertension and without hypertension. Vascular and cognitive measures were assessed pre and post 30-min of aerobic exercise at ≈55% maximal oxygen consumption. Arterial stiffness and cerebral hemodynamics were measured non-invasively. Cognitive function was measured using a computerized testing battery that included executive function and memory tasks. Acute aerobic exercise resulted in similar 1) increases in arterial stiffness and cerebral hemodynamic pulsatility, and 2) accelerated executive function and memory reaction time post-exercise in adults with and without hypertension. Based on these results, we investigated if adults with hypertension had differential vascular contributions to cognitive activity. We measured cerebrovascular hemodynamics non-invasively during cognitive activity as a measure of neurovascular coupling. Adults with and without hypertension exhibit similar increases in large artery stiffness and decreases in extracranial hemodynamic pulsatility during cognitive activity, indicating similar neurovascular coupling between groups. In conclusion, these data indicate that middle-aged adults with controlled-hypertension experience similar 1) vascular responses to acute exercise and cognitive activity, and 2) beneficial changes in cognitive function following acute exercise as their counterparts without hypertension. Our results will be interpreted and explored in the context of hypertension severity and underscore the importance of optimal blood pressure control.


Open Access