Physically active lifestyle enhances vagal-cardiac function but not central autonomic neural interaction in elderly humans

Xiangrong Shi, Frederick A. Schaller, Nancy Tierney, Patrick Chanthavong, Shande Chen, Peter B. Raven, Michael L. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The cause of the age-related impairment of arterial baroreflex function remains ill-defined; moreover, it is unknown whether this impairment results from aging per se or from an inactive lifestyle associated with aging. In this study, we sought to: 1) determine whether elderly individuals who maintained an active lifestyle had an enhanced carotid baroreflex function as compared with their sedentary counterparts; and 2) determine whether this difference was due in part to altered function of the arterial baroreceptor and/or altered central modulation. Eight healthy, sedentary (SED, 68 ± 2 yr) and eight physically active (ACT, 68 ± 1 yr) elderly men with peak O2 consumption 25.5 ± 1.2 vs 35.7 ± 2.4 ml/min/kg (P < 0.01), respectively, were assessed with carotid baroreceptor (CBR) function using 5s pulses of neck pressure or suction (ranging from +40 to -80 Torr) delivered to the carotid sinus region at rest and during lower body negative pressure (LBNP) of -15 and -40 Torr. Changes in heart rate (HR) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were assessed for CBR-HR and CBR-MAP gains, respectively. Overall CBR-HR gains in a range of ∼120 mmHg of carotid sinus pressure were greater (P < 0.01) in ACT than SED at rest and during LBNP. The derived peak CBR-HR slopes between ACT and SED at rest were -0.32 ± 0.07 vs -0.11 ± 0.02 bpm/mmHg (P = 0.007), respectively. However, there was no statistical difference (P = 0.37) in CBR-MAP gains between the groups. Neither CBR-MAP (P = 0.08) nor CBR-HR (P = 0.41) gain was augmented by LBNP in the elderly. Conclusion: Active lifestyle enhances the CBR-HR reflex sensitivity as a result of the improved vagal-cardiac function in elderly people. Aging is associated with an absence of central autonomic interaction in the control of blood pressure regardless of physical fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-218
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Aging
  • Arterial baroreflex gain
  • Carotid sinus pressure
  • Central autonomic dysfunction
  • Lower body negative pressure


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