Larger blood pressure (BP) responses to relative-intensity static exercise in men versus women are thought to involve altered muscle metaboreflex activation, but whether this is because of an intrinsic sex difference in metabolite production or differences in muscle strength and absolute load is unknown.
Continuous BP and heart rate were recorded in 200 healthy young men and women (women: n = 109) during 2 min of static handgrip exercise at 30% of maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), followed by 2 min of postexercise circulatory occlusion (PECO). Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) was recorded in a subset of participants (n = 39; women, n = 21), permitting calculation of signal-averaged resting sympathetic transduction (MSNA-diastolic BP). Sex differences were examined with and without statistical adjustment for MVC. Multivariate regression analyses were performed to identify predictors of BP responses.
Men had larger systolic BP responses (interactions, P < 0.0001) to static handgrip exercise (24 ± 10 vs 17 ± 9 mm Hg [mean ± SD], P < 0.0001) and PECO (20 ± 11 vs 16 ± 9 mm Hg, P < 0.0001). Adjustment for MVC abolished these sex differences in BP (interactions, P > 0.7). In the subset with MSNA, neither burst frequency or incidence responses to static handgrip exercise or PECO differed between men and women (interactions, P > 0.2). Resting sympathetic transduction was also similar (P = 0.8). Multiple linear regression analysis showed that MVC or the change in MSNA, were predictors of BP responses to static handgrip, but only MVC was associated with BP responses during PECO.
Sex differences in absolute contraction load contribute to differences in BP responses during muscle metaboreflex isolation using PECO. These data do not support an intrinsic effect of sex as being responsible for exercise BP differences between men and women.