Physical training decreases resting heart rate as well as heart rate and catecholamine responses to ordinary physical activity and mental stress. These effects have been speculated to diminish cardiac morbidity. However, the sparing of heartbeats and catecholamine production might be outweighed by exaggerated responses during training sessions. To elucidate this issue, heart rate was measured continuously and plasma catecholamine concentrations were measured frequently during 24 h of ordinary living conditions in seven endurance-trained athletes (T) and eight sedentary or untrained (UT) young males. T subjects had lower heart rates than UT subjects during sleep and during nontraining awake periods. However, because of the increase during training, the total 24-h heartbeat number did not differ between groups (107,737 +/- 3,819 for T vs. 113,249 +/- 6,879 for UT, P = 0.731). Neither during sleep nor during awake nontraining periods were catecholamine levels lower in T than in UT subjects. Peak catecholamine levels during exercise in T were much higher than peak levels in UT subjects, and 24-h average epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations were twice as high. We concluded that in highly trained athletes the total number of heartbeats per day is not decreased and the catecholamine production is, in fact, increased.