Objectives: We tested the effect of aerobic exercise on autonomic regulation of the heart in healthy young adults.
Methods: Healthy, sedentary young adults (n = 149; age = 30.4 +/- 7.53 years) were randomized to receive 12 weeks of either aerobic conditioning or strength training. Primary outcomes were heart rate and RR interval variability (RRV) measured before and after training and after 4 weeks of sedentary deconditioning. RRV, a noninvasive index of cardiac autonomic regulation, reflects variability in the intervals between consecutive R waves of the electrocardiogram.
Results: Aerobic conditioning but not strength training led to a significant increase in aerobic capacity (3.11 mL/kg/min), a decrease in heart rate (-3.49 beats per minute), and an increase in high-frequency RRV (0.25 natural log msec2), each of which returned to pretraining levels after deconditioning. Significant 3-way interactions, however, revealed autonomic effects only in men.
Conclusions: In sedentary, healthy young adults, aerobic conditioning but not strength training enhances autonomic control of the heart, but post hoc analyses suggested that gender plays a significant role in this exercise-related cardioprotection.