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Braz J Med Biol Res. 2005 Sep;38(9):1331-8. Epub 2005 Aug 26.

Effects of age and physical activity on the autonomic control of heart rate in healthy men.

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Departamento de Fisioterapia, Universidade Federal de São Carlos, São Carlos, SP, Brazil.


The effects of the aging process and an active life-style on the autonomic control of heart rate (HR) were investigated in nine young sedentary (YS, 23 +/- 2.4 years), 16 young active (YA, 22 +/- 2.1 years), 8 older sedentary (OS, 63 +/- 2.4 years) and 8 older active (OA, 61 +/- 1.1 years) healthy men. Electrocardiogram was continuously recorded for 15 min at rest and for 4 min in the deep breathing test, with a breath rate of 5 to 6 cycles/min in the supine position. Resting HR and RR intervals were analyzed by time (RMSSD index) and frequency domain methods. The power spectral components are reported in normalized units (nu) at low (LF) and high (HF) frequency, and as the LF/HF ratio. The deep breathing test was analyzed by the respiratory sinus arrhythmia indices: expiration/inspiration ratio (E/I) and inspiration-expiration difference (deltaIE). The active groups had lower HR and higher RMSSD index than the sedentary groups (life-style condition: sedentary vs active, P < 0.05). The older groups showed lower HFnu, higher LFnu and higher LF/HF ratio than the young groups (aging effect: young vs older, P < 0.05). The OS group had a lower E/I ratio (1.16) and deltaIE (9.7 bpm) than the other groups studied (YS: 1.38, 22.4 bpm; YA: 1.40, 21.3 bpm; OA: 1.38, 18.5 bpm). The interaction between aging and life-style effects had a P < 0.05. These results suggest that aging reduces HR variability. However, regular physical activity positively affects vagal activity on the heart and consequently attenuates the effects of aging in the autonomic control of HR.

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