Assessing autonomic response to repeated bouts of exercise below and above respiratory threshold: Insight from dynamic analysis of RR variability

Daniela Lucini, Chiara Vigo, Fabio Tosi, Gianfranco Toninelli, Fabio Badilini, Massimo Pagani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The dynamics of vagal withdrawal and reactivation during pulses of exercise are described by indices computed from heart period (RR) variations, which may be sensitive to duration and load. We sought to assess the consistency over time of these indices, which is not well established. Methods: We recorded continuous electrocardiogram during series of five successive bouts (2 min) of submaximal exercise (at 40 and 70 % of VO2peak, different days). Autonomic responsiveness was inferred from quantification of onset and offset of RR dynamics of each individual bout. Consistency of results was assessed with intraclass correlation (ICC). Results: During exercise bouts, indices from tachycardic and bradycardic transients reach lower levels in response to higher exercise loads and progression of exercise. There is a significant effect of load and time (i.e., bout repetition) for all examined variables, with a clear interaction. However, no interaction is observed with the 60 s change in heart rate. ICC analysis demonstrates that various indices are characterized by large differences in stability, which is generally greater within the same day (e.g., tachyspeed ICC at 40 % = 0.751, at 70 % = 0.704, both days = 0.633; bradyspeed, respectively, = 0.545, 0.666, 0.516). Conclusions: Intensity and duration of exercise modulate vagal withdrawal and reactivation. Analysis of RR variations, during successive brief exercise bouts at lower and higher intensity, ensures a consistency similar to that reported for autonomic cardiac regulation at rest and might guide the choice among multiple indices that are obtained from the tachogram.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1269-1279
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Cardiovascular regulation
  • Heart rate dynamics
  • Sympathetic modulation
  • Vagal reactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Medicine(all)


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