Individual responses to aerobic training vary from almost none to a 40% increase in aerobic fitness in sedentary subjects. The reasons for these differences in the training response are not well known. We hypothesized that baseline cardiovascular autonomic function may influence the training response. The study population included sedentary male subjects (n = 39, 35 +/- 9 yr). The training period was 8 wk, including 6 sessions/wk at an intensity of 70-80% of the maximum heart rate for 30-60 min/session. Cardiovascular autonomic function was assessed by measuring the power spectral indexes of heart rate variability from 24-h R-R interval recordings before the training period. Mean peak O2 uptake increased by 11 +/- 5% during the training period (range 2-19%). The training response correlated with age (r = -0.39, P = 0.007) and with the values of the high-frequency (HF) spectral component of R-R intervals (HF power) analyzed over the 24-h recording (r = 0.46, P = 0.002) or separately during the daytime hours (r = 0.35, P = 0.028) and most strongly during the nighttime hours (r = 0.52, P = 0.001). After adjustment for age, HF power was still associated with the training response (e.g., P = 0.001 analyzed during nighttime hours). These data show that cardiovascular autonomic function is an important determinant of the response to aerobic training among sedentary men. High vagal activity at baseline is associated with the improvement in aerobic power caused by aerobic exercise training in healthy sedentary subjects.