Background: The aim of the present study was to determine in healthy children the effect of a well-controlled endurance training programme on cardiac function at maximal exercise and to define whether gender affects the training-induced cardiovascular response. The contribution of factors potentially involved in those adaptations such as cardiac dimensions and diastolic and systolic function was also investigated.
Methods: Thirty-five l0-11-year-old children took part in this study: 19 children (10 girls and nine boys) were assigned to participate in a 13-week endurance training programme (3 x 1 h week-1, intensity: > 80% HR max), and 16 (seven girls and nine boys) served as a control group. A resting echocardiographic evaluation and a maximal upright cycle test, including measurement of stroke volume (SV), cardiac output (Q) and blood pressure, were performed in all children before and after the study period.
Results: The training programme led to a rise in maximal O2 uptake (VO2max), brought about however, only by an increase in SVmax in both genders. Moreover, the boys increased their VO2max to a greater extent than the girls (boys: +15%; girls: +8%) only because of a higher SVmax improvement (boys: +15%; girls: +11%). No alterations were noticed in the SV pattern from rest to maximal exercise, indicating that the increase in SVrest was a key factor in the improvement of SVmax and thus VO2max. Regarding resting echocardiographic data, an increase in the left ventricular end-diastolic diameter, concomitant with an improvement in diastolic function, was observed after training and constituted an essential element in the rise in VO2max after training in these children. Moreover, during maximal exercise, a decrease in systemic vascular resistances, probably indicating peripheral cardiovascular adaptive changes, might also play an important role in the increase in VO2max.
Conclusion: Whatever gender, aerobic training increases VO2max in children, mediated by an improvement in SVmax only. Similar mechanisms, including loading conditions and cardiac morphology, seem to be involved in both genders in order to explain such an improvement.