Interval training in elderly men increases both heart rate variability and baroreflex activity



Autonomic nervous system activity decreases continuously with age and appears to be a powerful predictor of disease and death. Attempts are thus made to reactivate autonomic drive with the intent of improving health.


We assessed maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), auto- nomic nervous system activity by heart rate variability (HRV) analysis and spontaneous cardiac baroreflex activity (SBR) in eleven elderly men (73.5±4.2 years) before and after a 14-week program of intensive cycloergometer interval training. The standard HRV indices were calculated using time domain (mean RR, PNN50, RMSSD, SDNN, SDANN and SDNNIDX), and Fourier transform (total power, ULF,VLF, LF, LFnu, HF, HFnu and LF/HF) analyses of 24-hour, daytime and nighttime Holter recordings. The SBR was calculated from 15-minute recordings of spontaneous blood pressure and RR interval variations using the sequence (slope, slSBR) and cross-spectral (αSBRHF and αSBRLF) methods.


After the training period,VO2max increased by 18.6 % (26.8±4.4 to 31.8±5.2 ml · kg–1 · min–1, p<0.01). The nocturnal parasympathetic indices of HRV increased (PNN50: 3.05±2.21 to 5.00±2.87%, RMSSD: 29.1±7.6 to 38.8±10.9 ms, HF: 117±54 to 194±116 ms2/Hz, all p<0.05) as did the SBR indices (slSBR: 7.0±1.8 to 9.8±2.1 ms·mmHg–1, p<0.01; αSBRHF: 6.9±2.2 to 10.5±3.7 ms ·mmHg–1, p<0.05; αSBRLF: 5.3±2.3 to 6.9±3.1 ms ·mmHg–1, p=0.22).


Intensive endurance training in elderly men enhanced parasympathetic parameters of HRV and, interestingly, of SBR. Physiological mechanisms and long-term clinical effects on health status should be further investigated.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1.

    Akselrod S, Gordon D, Ubel A, Shannon DC, Barger AC, Cohen RJ (1981) Power spectrum analysis of heart rate fluctuation: a quantitative probe of beat-to-beat cardiovascular control. Science 213:220–222

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Bonnemeier H, Richardt G, Potratz J, Wiegand UK, Brandes A, Kluge N, Katus HA (2003) Circadian profile of cardiac autonomic nervous modulation in healthy subjects: differing effects of aging and gender on heart rate variability. J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol 14(8):791–799

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Bowman AJ, Clayton RH, Murray A, Reed JW, Subhan MF, Ford GA (1997) Baroreflex function in sedentary and endurance-trained elderly people. Age Ageing 26:289–294

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Bowman AJ, Clayton RH, Murray A, Reed JW, Subhan MM, Ford GA (1997) Effects of aerobic exercise training and yoga on the baroreflex in healthy elderly persons. Eur J Clin Invest 27:443–449

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Chapleau MW, Hajduczok G, Abboud FM (1989) Pulsatile activation of baroreceptors causes central facilitation of baroreflex. Am J Physiol 256:H1735–H1741

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Dekker JM, Schouten EG, Klootwijk P, Pool J, Swenne CA, Kromhout D (1997) Heart rate variability from short electrocardiographic recordings predicts mortality from all causes in middle-aged and elderly men. The Zutphen Study. Am J Epidemiol 145:899–908

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Furlan R, Piazza S, Dell’Orto S, Gentile E, Cerutti S, Pagani M, Malliani A (1993) Early and late effects of exercise and athletic training on neural mechanisms controlling heart rate. Cardiovasc Res 27:482–488

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Hull SS, Vanoli E, Adamson PB, Verrier RL, Foreman RD, Schwartz PJ (1994) Exercise training confers anticipatory protection from sudden death during acute myocardial ischemia. Circulation 89:548–552

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Jensen-Urstad K, Bouvier F, Saltin B, Jensen-Urstad M (1998) High prevalence of arrhythmias in elderly male athletes with a lifelong history of regular strenuous exercise. Heart 79:161–164

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Jensen-Urstad K, Storck N, Bouvier F, Ericson M, Lindblad LE, Jensen-Urstad M (1997) Heart rate variability in healthy subjects is related to age and gender. Acta Physiol Scand 160:235–241

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Kenney WL (1988) Endurance training increases vagal control heart rate. In: Dotson CO, Humphrey JH (eds) Exercise physiology: current selected research. AMS Press, New York, pp 59–65

  12. 12.

    La Rovere MT, Bigger JT Jr, Marcus FI, Mortara A, Schwartz PJ (1998) Baroreflex sensitivity and heart-rate variability in prediction of total cardiac mortality after myocardial infarction. ATRAMI (Autonomic Tone and Reflexes After Myocardial Infarction) Investigators. Lancet 351:478–484

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Laitinen T, Hartikainen J, Vanninen E, Niskanen L, Geelen G, Lansimies E (1998) Age and gender dependency of baroreflex sensitivity in healthy subjects. J Appl Physiol 84:576–583

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Levy WC, Cerqueira MD, Harp GD, Johannessen KA, Abrass IB, Schwartz RS, Stratton JR (1998) Effect of endurance exercise training on heart rate variability at rest in healthy young and older men. Am J Cardiol 82:1236–1241

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    O’Brien IA, O’Hare P, Corrall RJ (1986) Heart rate variability in healthy subjects: effect of age and the derivation of normal ranges for tests of autonomic function. Br Heart J 55:348–354

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Pagani M, Somers VK, Furlan R, Dell’Orto S, Conway J, Baselli G, Cerutti S, Sleight P, Malliani A (1988) Changes in autonomic regulation induced by physical training in mild hypertension. Hypertension 12:600–610

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Pardo Y, Merz CN, Velasquez I, Paul-Labrador M, Agarwala A, Peter CT (2000) Exercise conditioning and heart rate variability: evidence of a threshold effect. Clin Cardiol 23:615–620

    PubMed  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Parlow J, Viale J-P, Annat G, Hughson R, Quintin L (1995) Spontaneous cardiac baroreflex in humans. Comparison with drug-induced responses. Hypertension 25:1058–1068

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Piccirillo G, Bucca C, Bauco C, Cinti AM, Michele D, Fimognari FL, Cacciafesta M, Marigliano V (1998) Power spectral analysis of heart rate in subjects over a hundred years old. Int J Cardiol 63:53–61

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Pichot V, Roche F, Gaspoz JM, Enjolras F, Antoniadis A, Minini P, Costes F, Busso T, Lacour JR, Barthelemy JC (2000) Relation between heart rate variability and training load in middle-distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32:1729–1736

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Pinna GD, La Rovere MT, Maestri R, Mortara A, Bigger JT, Schwartz PJ (2000) Comparison between invasive and non-invasive measurements of baroreflex sensitivity; implications for studies on risk stratification after a myocardial infarction. Eur Heart J 21:1522–1529

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Rennie MJ (2000) When having the nerve is helped by having the muscle. J Physiol 552.1:1(101R)

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Roche F, Duverney D, Court-Fortune I, Pichot V, Costes F, Lacour JR, Antoniadis JA, Gaspoz JM, Barthelemy JC (2002) Cardiac interbeat interval increment for the identification of obstructive sleep apnea. Pacing Clin Electrophysiol 25(8):1192–1199

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Schuit AJ, van Amelsvoort LG, Verheij TC, Rijneke RD, Maan AC, Swenne CA, Schouten EG (1999) Exercise training and heart rate variability in older people. Med Sci Sports Exerc 31:816–821

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Sheldahl LM, Ebert TJ, Cox B, Tristani FE (1994) Effect of aerobic training on baroreflex regulation of cardiac and sympathetic function. J Appl Physiol 76:158–165

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Sleight P (2000) Non-invasive baroreflex testing should be used to assess prognosis. Eur Heart J 21:1494–1495

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Spina RJ, Bourey RE, Ogawa T, Ehsani AA (1994) Effects of exercise training on alpha-adrenergic mediated pressor responses and baroreflex function in older subjects. J Gerontol 49:B277–B281

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Spina RJ, Ogawa T, Kohrt WM, Martin WH 3rd, Holloszy JO, Ehsani AA (1993) Differences in cardiovascular adaptations to endurance exercise training between older men and women. J Appl Physiol 75(2):849–855

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Stein PK, Ehsani AA, Domitrovich PP Kleiger RE, Rottman JN (1999) Effect of exercise training on heart rate variability in healthy older adults. Am Heart J 138:567–576

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Task force of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (1996) Heart rate variability. Standards of Measurement, physiological interpretation, and clinical use. Circulation 93:1043–1065

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vincent Pichot.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Pichot, V., Roche, F., Denis, C. et al. Interval training in elderly men increases both heart rate variability and baroreflex activity. Clin Auton Res 15, 107–115 (2005).

Download citation

Key words

  • aging
  • exercise
  • baroreflex
  • autonomic nervous system activity
  • heart rate variability