Author(s): Routledge FS, Campbell TS, McFetridgeDurdle JA, Bacon SL
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a noninvasive, practical and reproducible measure of autonomic nervous system function. A heart rate that is variable and responsive to demands is believed to bestow a survival advantage, whereas reduced HRV may be associated with poorer cardiovascular health and outcomes. In recent years, many researchers have investigated the prognostic implications of HRV in a variety of clinical populations. Evidence suggests that reduced HRV has prognostic significance for individuals with myocardial infarction, chronic heart failure, unstable angina and diabetes mellitus. Interventions to increase HRV, such as exercise therapy, have also been examined. The findings of the present review suggest that exercise therapy may improve HRV in myocardial infarction, chronic heart failure and revascularization patients by increasing vagal tone and decreasing sympathetic activity. One hypothesis is that a shift toward greater vagal modulation may positively affect the prognosis of these individuals. While the underlying mechanisms by which exercise training improves vagal modulation are speculative at present, angiotensin II and nitric oxide may be potential mediators.