Physical Activity and Heart Rate Variability in Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study
Background—Cardiac mortality and electrophysiologic dysfunction both increase with age. Heart rate variability (HRV) provides indices of autonomic function and electrophysiology that are associated with cardiac risk. How habitual physical activity (PA) among older adults prospectively relates to HRV, including nonlinear indices of erratic sinus patterns, is not established. We hypothesized that increasing levels of both total leisure-time activity and walking would be prospectively associated with more favorable time-domain, frequency-domain, and nonlinear HRV measures in older adults.
Methods and Results—We evaluated serial longitudinal measures of both PA and 24-hour Holter HRV over 5 years among 985 older US adults in the community-based Cardiovascular Health Study. After multivariable adjustment, greater total leisure-time activity, walking distance, and walking pace were each prospectively associated with specific, more favorable HRV indices, including higher 24-hour standard-deviation-of-all-normal-to-normal-intervals (SDNN, p-trend=0.009, 0.02, 0.06, respectively) and ultra-low-frequency-power (p-trend=0.02, 0.008, 0.16, respectively). Greater walking pace was also associated with higher short-term-fractal-scaling-exponent (p-trend=0.003) and lower Poincare ratio (p-trend=0.02), markers of less erratic sinus patterns.
Conclusions—Greater total leisure-time activity, as well as walking alone, were prospectively associated with more favorable and specific indices of autonomic function in older adults, including several suggestive of more normal circadian fluctuations and less erratic sinoatrial firing. Our results suggest potential mechanisms that might contribute to lower cardiovascular mortality with habitual PA later in life.
- Received July 30, 2013.
- Revision received February 25, 2014.
- Accepted February 28, 2014.