Effects of different exercise interventions on heart rate variability and cardiovascular health factors in older adults: a systematic review

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Background: Aging impairs physiological processes in the autonomic nervous, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems which are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart rate variability (HRV), the beat-to-beat variations of successive heartbeats, is an indicator of cardiac autonomic control and cardiovascular health. Physical activity has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. However, no review has been conducted to summarize the effects of different exercise modalities on HRV in older adults. Therefore, the aim of this systematic review was to summarize the effects of endurance, resistance, coordinative, and multimodal exercise interventions on resting HRV and secondary health factors in healthy older adults aged 60 years in average and over. Methods: Five databases (PubMed, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, Ovid, and Cochrane Library) were searched for eligible studies published between 2005 and September 8th, 2020. Two reviewers independently assessed the studies for potential inclusion. Outcome measures were changes in resting HRV indices, baroreflex sensitivity, blood pressure, body fat, body mass, body mass index, cardiac output, distance in the six-minute walking test, stroke volume, total peripheral resistance, and VO2 max or VO2 peak from pre to post intervention. The methodological quality of the final data set was assessed using two scales (TESTEX and STARDHRV). This review was registered in PROSPERO: CRD42020206606. Results: The literature search retrieved 3991 articles, of which 13 were included in the review. Five studies used multimodal, three studies endurance, two studies resistance, two studies coordinative, and one study used an endurance and a resistance training intervention. The majority of the studies revealed significant positive effects on cardiac autonomic control, except for the resistance training interventions. All exercise modalities improved secondary health factors. The methodological quality assessment revealed a few criteria to improve the quality of and comparability between studies. Conclusion: This systematic review revealed beneficial effects on cardiac autonomic control in healthy older adults through endurance, coordinative, and multimodal training but not through resistance training. Secondary health factors improved after all types of physical interventions. Future investigations should more thoroughly adhere to methodological standards of exercise interventions and ECG recording for the assessment of autonomic regulation.




Grässler, B., Thielmann, B., Böckelmann, I., & Hökelmann, A. (2021, December 1). Effects of different exercise interventions on heart rate variability and cardiovascular health factors in older adults: a systematic review. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/s11556-021-00278-6

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