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The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 2005 June;45(2):217-21


language: English

Lifelong physical training prevents the age-related impairment of heart rate variability and exercise capacity in elderly people

Galetta F., Franzoni F., Femia F. R., Roccella N., Pentimone F., Santoro G.

Department of Internal Medicine University of Pisa, Pisa, Ital


Aim. Aging is associated with a reduction on heart rate variability (HRV) and working capacity. Aim of this study was to evaluate in a group of elite master athletes the effect of a lifelong history of endurance running on HRV and exercise working capacity.
Methods. Twenty athletes (males, age 68.5±4.5 years) who practiced endurance running for at least 40 years, and 20 age-sex-matched control subjects with sedentary lifestyle were studied. All the participants underwent a maximal stepwise electrocardiogram (ECG) on effort (work-rate increments of 25 Watts every 2 min) and a 24-hour ECG monitoring.
Results. All the time domain measures of HRV and the LF and HF powers were significantly higher in elderly athletes than in sedentary subjects (P<0.001), while the LF/HF ratio was comparable between the 2 groups. Athletes exhibited significantly higher workload than controls (1 610±489 vs 687±236 W, P<0.0001). Both the groups achieved, at maximum workload, similar heart rate (142±10 vs 138±18 bpm, ns), systolic blood pressure (226±18 vs 220±16 mmHg, ns), and rate-pressure product (32 596±2 952 vs 30 838±3 675, ns). Maximum work-rate attained in athletes was 225 W. By contrast, none of the controls reached a work-rate higher than 150 W. In the whole group we also showed a positive correlation between the time domain HRV parameter SDNN and maximum workload (r=0.58, P<0.001).
Conclusion. Long-term endurance training induces in elderly subjects an increased HRV and a higher exercise working capacity, which are well-established predictors of cardiovascular and overall mortality.

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