Heart Rate Variability in Sportive Elderly: Relationship with Daily Physical Activity

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Aging is associated with decreased heart rate variability (HRV). As aerobic training is known to increase HRV, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the influence of long-term lifestyle on HRV in very old adults with regard to their usual physical activity.


Twenty-four older adults (mean 75.7 ± 0.2 yr) were divided into two groups according to their sport activities assessed by the Modified Baecke Questionnaire for Older Adults. Sedentary subjects (SED) were compared to elderly regularly involved in sport activities (SP). The subjects were supine for 20 min and the last 5 min were used to determine HR and HRV indexes as the standard deviation of normal intervals (SDNN), the root-mean-square differences of successive normal R-R intervals (RMSSD), and the high-frequency (HF) and low-frequency (LF) power. Physical activity was evaluated during 1 wk by triaxial accelerometry and analyzed in terms of intensity and duration.


Daily physical activity energy expenditure given by the accelerometer was significantly higher in SP than in SED (P < 0.05). SP spent more time per week in activity of intensity higher than 3 resting metabolic equivalents (METs), but total activity time was significantly higher for SED than for SP (P < 0.05). SP showed significantly (P < 0.05) lower resting heart rate than SED, higher global HRV (SDNN), and higher parasympathetic-related HRV indexes (RMSSD, HF, and HF/(LF+HF)) (P < 0.05).


Our results indicate that in very old subjects a long-term sportive lifestyle, which increases total daily energy expenditure and physical activity intensity, is associated with higher global HRV and vagal-related indexes and thus may counteract the age-related decline in cardiac autonomic control better than a sedentary lifestyle.

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