We sought to elucidate the relationship between diastolic intraventricular pressure gradients (IVPG) and exercise tolerance in patients with heart failure using color M-mode Doppler. Diastolic dysfunction has been implicated as a cause of low aerobic potential in patients with heart failure. We previously validated a novel method to evaluate diastolic function that involves noninvasive measurement of IVPG using color M-mode Doppler data. Thirty-one patients with heart failure and 15 normal subjects were recruited. Echocardiograms were performed before and after metabolic treadmill stress testing. Color M-mode Doppler was used to determine the diastolic propagation velocity (Vp) and IVPG off-line. Resting diastolic function indexes including myocardial relaxation velocity, Vp, and E/Vp correlated well with VO2max (r = 0.8, 0.5, and -0.5, respectively, P < 0.001 for all). There was a statistically significant increase in Vp and IVPG in both groups after exercise, but the change in IVPG was higher in normal subjects compared with patients with heart failure (2.6 +/- 0.8 vs. 1.1 +/- 0.8 mmHg, P < 0.05). Increase in IVPG correlated with peak VO2max (r = 0.8, P < 0.001) and was the strongest predictor of exercise capacity. Myocardial relaxation is an important determinant of exercise aerobic capacity. In heart failure patients, impaired myocardial relaxation is associated with reduced diastolic suction force during exercise.