Objective: To examine the role of gender differences in cardiac functional capacity in explaining higher mean values for maximal oxygen uptake (VO(2)max) in boys than in girls.
Design: Comparative group exercise testing.
Setting: Pediatric exercise testing laboratory.
Subjects: Twenty-five prepubertal boys (mean [+/- SD] age, 12 +/- 0.4 years) and 24 premenarcheal girls (mean age, 11.7 +/- 0.5 years).
Interventions: Maximal incremental upright cycle exercise.
Measurements and results: Mean values for VO(2)max were the following: boys, 47.2 +/- 6.1 mL/kg/min; and girls, 40.4 +/- 5.8 mL/kg/min (16.8% difference; p < 0.05). The average maximal stroke index with Doppler echocardiography was 62 +/- 9 mL/m(2) for boys and 55 +/- 9 mL/m(2) for girls (12.7% difference; p < 0.05). No significant gender differences were seen in maximal heart rate or arterial venous oxygen difference. When VO(2)max and maximal stroke volume (SV) were expressed relative to lean body mass, gender differences declined but persisted, falling to 6.2% and 5.2%, respectively.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that differences in SV as well as in body composition contribute to gender-related variations in VO(2)max during childhood. Whether this reflects small gender differences in relative heart size or dynamic factors influencing ventricular preload and contractility during exercise is unknown.