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Effect of physical activity on retinal microcirculation as a vascular biomarker

Prof. Dr. med. Henner Hanssen, FESC

FMH Internal Medicine, Sports Medicine
Professor of Preventive Sports Medicine
Head of Preventive Sports Medicine & System Physiology
Deputy Head of Sports and Movement Medicine
Department of Sport, Exercise and Health
University of Basel
Switzerland 

The focus of my scientific orientation is the non-invasive static and dynamic retinal vessel analysis for the investigation of human retinal microcirculation under the influence of physical activities. My applied research combines physiological basics of athletic performance with cardiovascular prevention. The vessel diameters of the retinal microcirculation are a valid biomarker of the cerebral vascular bed. Large cohort studies have shown that middle-aged adults with narrowed retinal arteries and widened retinal veins with a correspondingly reduced arterio-venous ratio are associated with an increased risk of hypertension, a higher heart and stroke prevalence and an increased cardiovascular mortality overall. The effect of physical activity on the retinal vessel diameters and the dynamic micro vascular adaptation mechanisms are largely unknown.

In a prospective training study for the first time it could be shown that a regular chronic endurance training in normal, overweight and obese individuals was leading to an improvement of retinal vessel diameters. There was a strong relationship between physical performance and retinal arterio-venous ratio (AVR). Patients with obesity have thereby benefited the most from the movement intervention (Hanssen et al, Atherosclerosis 216 (2):. 433-439 (2011), see Fig.). By studying the retinal vessel diameter vascular disorders can be diagnosed early on micro circulatory level in order to approach a risk collective to start a timely lifestyle- and exercise therapy or to start a medication.

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