Heart rate variability and aerobic fitness

Am Heart J. 1993 Mar;125(3):726-31. doi: 10.1016/0002-8703(93)90164-5.


Heart rate variability, a noninvasive marker of parasympathetic activity, diminishes with aging and is augmented after exercise training. Whether habitual exercise over time can attenuate this loss is unknown. This cross-sectional investigation compared 72 male runners, aged 15 to 83 to 72 age- and weight-matched sedentary control subjects for the amplitude of their heart rate variability. Heart rate variability was assessed during rest while subjects were breathing at a rate of 6 breaths per minute and at an augmented tidal volume (tidal volume = 30% of vital capacity). Fitness levels were assessed with on-line, open-circuit spirometry while subjects were performing an incremental stress test. Overall results between the two groups showed that the physically active group had significantly higher fitness levels (p < 0.001), which were associated with significantly higher levels of heart rate variability, when compared with their sedentary counterparts (p < 0.001). These findings provide suggestive evidence for habitual aerobic exercise as a beneficial modulator of heart rate variability in an aging population.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Running / physiology
  • Time Factors