SPALDING, T. W., L. S. JEFFERS, S. W. PORGES, and B. D. HATFIELD. Vagal and cardiac reactivity to psychological stressors in trained and untrained men. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 581–591, 2000.
The aim of this study was to determine whether higher aerobic fitness is associated with enhanced vagal influences on the myocardium, resulting in moderation of chronotropic cardiac activity during psychological stress and recovery.
Heart period (HP) and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) were obtained from 10 aerobically trained (AT) and 10 untrained (UT) college-aged men at rest and during three contiguous psychological challenges and 3 min of recovery. Ratings of perceived stress were obtained at the end of the rest period, at the midpoint of each stressor, and at 30 s into recovery. Time series methods were used to quantify RSA from the beat-to-beat HP series. Responsivity was assessed both in terms of absolute levels of activity and phasic changes in activity (task or recovery minus baseline).
Both groups reported similar levels of subjective stress throughout the experiment. The AT exhibited longer HP at rest and during psychological stress and recovery than did the UT. However, the groups did not differ on RSA at rest or during psychological stress and recovery, nor did they differ on phasic changes in RSA or HP during stress or recovery. Additionally, aerobic capacity was not correlated with absolute levels or phasic changes in RSA during psychological challenge for either group and, except in Min 2 for the UT, similar results were obtained for recovery.
The results supported the hypothesis that, among young men, higher aerobic fitness is associated with longer HP at rest and during psychological stress and recovery. However, the lower cardiac chronotropic activation observed among the AT relative to the UT was not paralleled by a group difference in the amplitude of RSA. These results suggest that the group difference in HP was not mediated directly by the vagal mechanisms manifested in the amplitude of RSA.
Department of Health Education, Department of Kinesiology, and Department of Human Development (Institute for Child Study), University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-2611
Submitted for publication May 1999.
Accepted for publication May 1999.
Address for correspondence: Thomas W. Spalding, Ph.D., Department of Health Education, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742-2611. E-mail: email@example.com.