Impaired endothelial vasodilatation may contribute to the exaggerated blood pressure (BP) responses to exercise in individuals who are overweight/obese. The present study investigated whether consumption of cocoa flavanols, which improve endothelium-dependent flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), can modify BP responsiveness to exercise. Twenty-one volunteers (eight females and thirteen males, 54·9 (se 2·2) years, BMI 31·6 (se 0·8) kg/m2, systolic BP 134 (se 2) mmHg, diastolic BP (DBP) 87 (se 2) mmHg) were randomised to consume single servings of either a high-flavanol (HF, 701 mg) or a low-flavanol (LF, 22 mg) cocoa beverage in a double-blind, cross-over design with 3–7-d washout between treatments. Two hours after cocoa consumption, FMD was measured, followed by continuous beat-to-beat assessment (Finapres™) of BP before and during 10 min of cycling at 75 % of age-predicted maximum heart rate. Averaged data from two assessments on each type of beverage were compared by analysis of covariance using pre-exercise BP as the covariate. Pre-exercise BP was similar after taking LF and HF (153 (se 3)/88 (se 3) v. 153 (se 4)/87 (se 2) mmHg, respectively, P>0·05). However, the BP response to exercise (area under BP curve) was attenuated by HF compared with LF. BP increases were 68 % lower for DBP (P = 0·03) and 14 % lower for mean BP (P = 0·05). FMD measurements were higher after taking HF than after taking LF (6·1 (se 0·6) % v. 3·4 (se 0·5) %, P < 0·001). By facilitating vasodilation and attenuating exercise-induced increases in BP, cocoa flavanols may decrease cardiovascular risk and enhance the cardiovascular benefits of moderate intensity exercise in at-risk individuals.
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