Article open access publication

Leg vascular and skeletal muscle mitochondrial adaptations to aerobic high‐intensity exercise training are enhanced in the early postmenopausal phase

The Journal of Physiology, Wiley, ISSN 1469-7793

Volume 595, 9, 2017

DOI:10.1113/jp273871, Dimensions: pub.1083861315, PMC: PMC5407965, PMID: 28231611,



  1. (1) University of Copenhagen, grid.5254.6, KU
  2. (2) Department of Clinical Biochemistry Rigshospitalet Copenhagen Denmark






KEY POINTS: Exercise training effectively improves vascular and skeletal muscle function; however, these effects of training may be blunted in postmenopausal women as a result of the loss of oestrogens. Accordingly, the capacity to deliver oxygen to the active muscles may also be impaired in postmenopausal women. In both premenopausal and recent postmenopausal women, exercise training was shown to improve leg vascular and skeletal muscle mitochondrial function. Interestingly, these effects were more pronounced in postmenopausal women. Skeletal muscle oxygen supply and utilization were similar in the two groups of women. These findings suggest that the early postmenopausal phase is associated with an enhanced capacity of the leg vasculature and skeletal muscle mitochondria to adapt to exercise training and that the ability to deliver oxygen to match the demand of the active muscles is preserved in the early phase following the menopausal transition. ABSTRACT: Exercise training leads to favourable adaptations within skeletal muscle; however, this effect of exercise training may be blunted in postmenopausal women as a result of the loss of oestrogens. Furthermore, postmenopausal women may have an impaired vascular response to acute exercise. We examined the haemodynamic response to acute exercise in matched pre- and postmenopausal women before and after 12 weeks of aerobic high intensity exercise training. Twenty premenopausal and 16 early postmenopausal (mean ± SEM: 3.1 ± 0.5 years after final menstrual period) women only separated by 4 years of age (mean ± SEM: 50 ± 0 years vs. 54 ± 1 years) were included. Before training, leg blood flow, O2 delivery, O2 uptake and lactate release during knee-extensor exercise were similar in pre- and postmenopausal women. Exercise training reduced (P < 0.05) leg blood flow, O2 delivery, O2 uptake, lactate release, blood pressure and heart rate during the same absolute workloads in postmenopausal women. These effects were not detected in premenopausal women. Quadriceps muscle protein contents of mitochondrial complex II, III and IV; endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS); cyclooxygenase (COX)-1; COX-2; and oestrogen-related receptor α (ERRα) were increased (P < 0.05) with training in postmenopausal women, whereas only the levels of mitochondrial complex V, eNOS and COX-2 were increased (P < 0.05) in premenopausal women. These findings demonstrate that vascular and skeletal muscle mitochondrial adaptations to aerobic high intensity exercise training are more pronounced in recent post- compared to premenopausal women, possibly as an effect of enhanced ERRα signalling. Also, the hyperaemic response to acute exercise appears to be preserved in the early postmenopausal phase.

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