European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 90, Issue 3–4, pp 317–325 | Cite as

Heart rate variability and autonomic activity at rest and during exercise in various physiological conditions

  • Renza Perini
  • Arsenio Veicsteinas
Review Article


The rhythmic components of heart rate variability (HRV) can be separated and quantitatively assessed by means of power spectral analysis. The powers of high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF) components of HRV have been shown to estimate cardiac vagal and sympathetic activities. The reliability of these spectral indices, as well as that of LF/HF ratio as a marker of autonomic interaction at rest and during exercise, is briefly reviewed. Modifications in autonomic activities induced by different physiological conditions, e.g. hypoxia exposure, training, and water immersion, have been found in HRV power spectra at rest. The changes in HF and LF powers and in LF/HF ratio observed during exercise have been shown not to reflect the decrease in vagal activity and the activation of sympathetic system occurring at increasing loads. HF peak was recognised in power spectra in the entire range of relative intensity, being responsible for the most part of HR variability at maximal load. LF power did not change during low intensity exercise and decreased to negligible values at medium–high intensity, where sympathetic activity was enhanced. There was no influence from factors such as fitness level, age, hypoxia, and blood distribution. In contrast, a dramatic effect of body position has been suggested by the observation that LF power increased at medium–high intensities when exercising in the supine position. The increased respiratory activity due to exercise would be responsible of HF modulation of HR via a direct mechanical effect. The changes in LF power observed at medium–high intensity might be the expression of the modifications in arterial pressure control mechanisms occurring with exercise. The finding of opposite trends for LF rhythm in supine and sitting exercises suggests that different readjustments might have occurred in relation to different muscular inputs in the two positions.


Power spectral analysis Cardiocirculatory control system Baroreceptors Sinus arrhythmia 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze Biomediche e Biotecnologie—Sezione di Fisiologia UmanaUniversità degli Studi di BresciaBresciaItaly
  2. 2.Cattedra di Fisiologia, Facoltà di Scienze MotorieUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

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