Autonomic effects of exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation

Susan T. Laing, Ty J. Gluckman, Kenneth M. Weinberg, Marc K. Lahiri, Jason Ng, Jeffrey J. Goldberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: One hypothesis by which exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation (CR) reduces mortality and cardiac events in patients with coronary artery disease invokes a beneficial effect of exercise on autonomic modulation. This study aimed to evaluate the autonomic effects of CR in patients with coronary artery disease. METHODS: Participants referred to phase 2 CR underwent 4 bicycle stress tests, 2 before starting CR and 2 after. On visits 1 and 3, a symptomlimited bicycle stress test was performed. On visits 2 and 4, the subject exercised to the same workload, but atropine was administered during maximal exercise to achieve parasympathetic blockade. Parasympathetic effect in exercise recovery was computed before and after CR. Heart rate variability for each segment was also quantified. Plasma catecholamine levels were obtained at baseline, peak exercise, and during recovery. RESULTS: Seventeen subjects (age 56 ± 10 years; 4 women) were enrolled. Six completed the post-CR testing. There was a significant increase in parasympathetic effect during exercise recovery post-CR (P <.001). There was also a significant increase in heart rate variability during exercise recovery post-CR (P <.001). Resting catecholamine levels were not different pre-and post-CR (NS). Post-CR, there was a blunted increase in peak exercise plasma catecholamine levels compared with those seen pre-CR, but this was not statistically significant. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrated a shift toward increased parasympathetic and possibly, blunted sympathetic effect in this cohort after completion of an exercise-based CR program. Our findings provide insight into the mechanism for the observed changes in exercise parameters following exercise training, and the improved outcomes seen after CR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-91
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • cardiac rehabilitation
  • exercise
  • heart rate recovery
  • parasympathetic modulation
  • sudden cardiac death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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