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Evaluation of Autonomic Function Underlying Slow Postexercise Heart Rate Recovery


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2006 - Volume 38 - Issue 12 - p 2095-2101
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000235360.24308.c7
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

The reduction in heart rate (HR) during the first minute of recovery immediately after a graded maximal exercise stress test (GXT) has recently been found to be a powerful and independent predictor of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Reduced vagal activity has been postulated as the cause, but this has not been proven in a population with slow HR recovery (HRR).

Purpose: To investigate autonomic contributions to HRR using time-frequency analysis in a group of individuals demonstrating slow HRR.

Methods: HRR was defined as the difference in HR between peak exercise and 1 min later; a value ≤ 18 bpm was set as threshold and considered abnormal. A modified continuous wavelet transform (CWT) was used to perform time-dependent spectral analysis during the baseline steady state and the following non-steady-state conditions created by GXT. This method provides dynamic measures of low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) peaks associated with autonomic activity. Individuals (N = 20) with a previous slow HRR underwent a second GXT within 3 months after their initial test. An additional eight subjects whose first GXT disclosed normal HRR were taken as a control group.

Results: Seven of 20 subjects demonstrated slow HRR (14 ± 5 bpm) on the repeat test, and 13 subjects displayed normal HRR (29 ± 5 bpm). Subjects with slow HRR in both GXT displayed significantly (P < 0.05) lower HF and LF fluctuations during recovery than those with normal HRR.

Conclusions: Attenuated HRR after GXT, assessed by CWT, is indeed associated with abnormal vagal reactivation and prolonged sympathetic stimulation after termination of maximal exercise.

1Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences, Abramson Center for Medical Physics, 2Biomedical Engineering, and 3Neufeld Cardiac Research Institute; Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, ISRAEL; and 4Noninvasive Cardiac Imaging Laboratory, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Address for correspondence: Linda R. Davrath, PhD, Department of Medical Physics, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel; E-mail:

Submitted for publication February 2006.

Accepted for publication June 2006.

©2006The American College of Sports Medicine