The pulmonary circulation and exercise responses in the elderly

Bryan J. Taylor, Bruce D. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Aging is associated with a progressive deterioration in the structure and function of the pulmonary circulation. Remodeling of the pulmonary vasculature occurs from maturity to senescence that is characterized by an increase in pulmonary vascular stiffness, pulmonary vascular pressures, and pulmonary vascular resistance along with increased heterogeneity of alveolar ventilation and pulmonary perfusion and decreased pulmonary capillary blood volume and membrane diffusing capacity that is consistent with a reduction in alveolar-capillary surface area. In theory, the aforementioned age-related changes in the pulmonary circulation may conspire to make elderly individuals more susceptible to gas exchange abnormalities during exercise. However, despite the erosion in ventilatory reserve with aging, the healthy older adult appears able to maintain alveolar ventilation at a level that allows maintenance of arterial blood gases within normal limits, even during heavy exercise. This ability to maintain adequate gas exchange likely occurs because age-related reductions in the maximal metabolic demand of exercise occur at a rate equal to or greater than the rate of deterioration in ventilatory reserve. A more prominent aspect of aging is the loss of lung elastic recoil that is associated with a modest reduction in the expiratory boundary of the maximal flow-volume envelope. This in turn increases the severity of expiratory airflow limitation and induces dynamic lung hyperinflation during exercise. The consequences of this age-associated decrease in elastic recoil on the pulmonary circulation are speculative, but an age-associated decline in elastic recoil may influence pulmonary vascular resistance and cardiac output, in addition to its impact on the work and oxygen cost of breathing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-538
Number of pages11
JournalSeminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2010


  • Aging
  • exercise
  • gas exchange
  • pulmonary circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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