Effect of endurance exercise on autonomic control of heart rate

Sports Med. 2003;33(1):33-46. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333010-00003.


Long-term endurance training significantly influences how the autonomic nervous system controls heart function. Endurance training increases parasympathetic activity and decreases sympathetic activity in the human heart at rest. These two training-induced autonomic effects, coupled with a possible reduction in intrinsic heart rate, decrease resting heart rate. Long-term endurance training also decreases submaximal exercise heart rate by reducing sympathetic activity to the heart. Physiological ageing is associated with a reduction in parasympathetic control of the heart; this decline in parasympathetic activity can be reduced by regular endurance exercise. Some research has indicated that females have increased parasympathetic and decreased sympathetic control of heart rate. These gender-specific autonomic differences probably contribute to a decreased cardiovascular risk and increased longevity observed in females.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports Medicine