Aim: Physical training and sport activity have a beneficial effect on cardiac autonomic activity. However, the exact impact of different types of sports disciplines on cardiac autonomic function is still unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the cardiac autonomic profile in different sports discplines and to determine their impact on cardiac autonomic function by using heart rate variability (HRV), a noninvasive electrocardiographic (ECG) analysis of the sympatho-vagal balance.
Methods: Temporal and spectral HRV parameters determined from 24-hour continuous ECG monitoring were studied in 40 subjects, including 12 endurance athletes, 14 hockey players and 14 untrained male volunteers (control group). Each participant had to wear a Holter recorder during 24 hours and to continue his everyday activities. All HRV parameters were compared between the 3 study groups.
Results: All heart rate values were lower and all parasympathetic-related time domain indices, including root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) and pNN50 (NN50 count divided by the total number of all NN intervals), were higher in both athletes groups as compared with controls (P<0.05). However, standard deviation of all NN intervals (SDNN) values, which determine global HRV, were significantly higher only in endurance athletes (P<0.05). Furthermore, the power spectral components low frequency (LF), a mixture of both autonomic inputs, and HF (high frequency), a marker of vagal modulation, were significantly higher with a resulting lower LF/HF ratio in both athletes groups as compared to controls (P<0.05).
Conclusion: Both endurance and team playing athletic activity induce during all-day a high parasympathetic tone (higher RMSSD, pNN50 and HF, and lower LF/HF ratio). However, only endurance athletic activity has a particularly high global HRV (higher SDNN), indicating thereby that this type sports discipline may have a more substantially favorable effect on the cardiac autonomic profile.