The adaptive effects of physical training on cardiovascular control mechanisms were studied in 11 subjects with mild hypertension. In these subjects we assessed the gain of the heart period-systolic arterial pressure relationship in the unfit and the fit state by using 1) an open loop approach, whereby the gain is expressed by the slope of the regression of heart period as a function of systolic arterial pressure, during a phenylephrine-induced pressure rise and 2) a closed loop approach with proper simplification, whereby the gain is expressed by the index alpha, obtained through simultaneous spectral analysis of the spontaneous variabilities of heart period and systolic arterial pressure. Both methods indicated that training significantly increased the gain of the relationship between heart period and systolic arterial pressure at rest and reduced arterial pressure and increased heart period significantly. This gain was drastically reduced during bicycle exercise both in the unfit and fit state. In a second group of normotensive (n = 7; systolic pressure, 133 +/- 3 mm Hg) and hypertensive (n = 7; systolic pressure, 180 +/- 10 mm Hg) subjects undergoing 24-hour diagnostic continuous electrocardiographic and high fidelity arterial pressure monitoring, the index alpha was significantly reduced in the hypertensive group at rest. Furthermore, when analyzed continuously over the entire 24-hour period, this index underwent minute-to-minute changes with lower values during the day and higher values during the night. We propose the index alpha as a quantitative indicator of the changes in the gain of baroreceptor mechanisms occurring with physical training in mild hypertension and during a 24-hour period in ambulatory subjects.