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Aerobic Exercise and Strength Training Effects on Cardiovascular Sympathetic Function in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Alex, Christian; Lindgren, Martin; Shapiro, Peter A. MD; McKinley, Paula S. PhD; Brondolo, Elizabeth N. PhD; Myers, Michael M. PhD; Zhao, Yihong PhD; Sloan, Richard P. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182906810
Original Articles

Objective Exercise has widely documented cardioprotective effects, but the mechanisms underlying these effects are not entirely known. Previously, we demonstrated that aerobic but not strength training lowered resting heart rate and increased cardiac vagal regulation, changes that were reversed by sedentary deconditioning. Here, we focus on the sympathetic nervous system and test whether aerobic training lowers levels of cardiovascular sympathetic activity in rest and that deconditioning would reverse this effect.

Methods We conducted a randomized controlled trial contrasting the effects of aerobic (A) versus strength (S) training on indices of cardiac (preejection period, or PEP) and vascular (low-frequency blood pressure variability, or LF BPV) sympathetic regulation in 149 young, healthy, and sedentary adults. Participants were studied before and after conditioning, as well as after 4 weeks of sedentary deconditioning.

Results As previously reported, aerobic capacity increased in response to conditioning and decreased after deconditioning in the aerobic, but not the strength, training group. Contrary to prediction, there was no differential effect of training on either PEP (A: mean [SD] −0.83 [7.8] milliseconds versus S: 1.47 [6.69] milliseconds) or LF BPV (A: mean [SD] −0.09 [0.93] ln mm Hg2 versus S: 0.06 [0.79] ln mm Hg 2) (both p values > .05).

Conclusions These findings, from a large randomized controlled trial using an intent-to-treat design, show that moderate aerobic exercise training has no effect on resting state cardiovascular indices of PEP and LF BPV. These results indicate that in healthy, young adults, the cardioprotective effects of exercise training are unlikely to be mediated by changes in resting sympathetic activity.

Trial Registration identifier: NCT00358137.

Sahlgrenska Academy (C.A., M.L.), University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden; Department of Psychiatry (P.A.S., P.S.M., M.M.M., R.P.S.), Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York; St. John’s University (E.N.B.), Jamaica, New York; and Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Biostatistics Division) (Y.Z.), New York University Medical Center, New York, New York.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Richard P. Sloan, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, 10032. E-mail:

Received for publication September 4, 2012; revision received January 30, 2013.

Copyright © 2013 by American Psychosomatic Society
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