Heart rate variability in healthy subjects is related to age and gender

Acta Physiol Scand. 1997 Jul;160(3):235-41. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-201X.1997.00142.x.


The effects of age and gender on heart rate variability as measured by spectral and time domain analysis of 24 h ECG recordings were evaluated in 101 healthy subjects, 49 men and 52 women (20-69 years of age). In the frequency domain, total power, very low-frequency power, low-frequency power and high-frequency power were negatively correlated to age (P < 0.001 for all variables). Total power decreased by 30% between 20-29 and 60-69 years of age. In the time domain, SDNN-index, the mean of the standard deviations of all normal R-R intervals for all 5 min segments of a 24 h ECG recording, was negatively correlated to age (P < 0.001). Total power, very low-frequency power, low-frequency power and the low-frequency/high-frequency ratio were lower in women (P < 0.05, P < 0.05, P < 0.01 and P < 0.01), although the absolute differences were much smaller than for age. There was a pronounced circadian variation; at night total power increased in all age groups (P < 0.01). The results show that age, and to a lesser degree gender, are important determinants of heart rate variability in healthy subjects. Heart rate variability is a valuable tool for risk stratification in cardiovascular disease, but the physiological effects of ageing, with diminishing heart rate variability in older age groups, must also be taken into account.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Time Factors