Cardiac vagal tone, exercise performance and the effect of respiratory training

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Heart rate variability (HRV) at rest and heart rate recovery after exercise reflect cardiac vagal activity. The aim of this study was to determine whether increasing HRV during involuntary respiratory training induced by rebreathing air using a Hepburn heart and lung exerciser (HHALE) could, like exercise, improve vagal tone. Eighteen subjects (36-88 years) underwent a 6-week control period, then a 6-week training period with the HHALE following which half continued training for 6 weeks and half ceased training. Measurements were made of HRV, work at 60% predicted heart rate max for 15 min, heart rate recovery after exercise, resting blood pressure, heart rate, vital capacity and forced expiratory volume. After the first 6-week HHALE training, there was a significant increase of 13.2 +/- 5.7 nu in the high frequency peak of the power spectrum of HRV at rest, whereas, the low frequency peak decreased. Similarly, exercise performance showed a significant improvement of 0.031 +/- 0.012 J per heartbeat from a pre-training 0.128 +/- 0.022. Also, heart rate recovery after exercise significantly faster (drop in the first 20 s improving by 3.3 +/- 1.5 beats from a pre-training 12.9 +/- 1.6). The subgroup that continued training maintained or slightly improved these values. In those that ceased training the speed of heart rate recovery at the end of the exercise test returned to pre-trained levels, whereas, other responses were either maintained or decreased slightly. We conclude that training with the HHALE can, without additional exercise, increase cardiac vagal tone and exercise performance.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-689
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2005