Wundersitz DWT, Wright BJ, Gordon BA, Pompei S, Lavie CJ, Nadurata V, Nolan K, Kingsley MIC
Regular physical activity is important for cardiovascular health. However, high-volume endurance exercise has been associated with increased number of electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities, including disturbances in cardiac rhythm (arrhythmias) and abnormalities in ECG pattern. The aim of this study was to assess if heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with ECG abnormalities. Fifteen participants with previous cycling experience completed a 21-day high-volume endurance exercise cycle over 3,515 km. Participants wore a 5-lead Holter monitor for 24 h pre- and post-exercise, which was used to quantify ECG abnormalities and export sinus R-to-R intervals (NN) used to calculate HRV characteristics. As noise is prevalent in 24-h HRV recordings, both 24-h and heart rate collected during stable periods of time (i.e., deep sleep) were examined. Participants experienced significantly more arrhythmias post high-volume endurance exercise (median = 35) compared to pre (median = 12; p = 0.041). All 24-h and deep sleep HRV outcomes were not different pre-to-post high-volume endurance exercise (p > 0.05). Strong and significant associations with arrhythmia number post-exercise were found for total arrhythmia (total arrhythmia number pre-exercise, rho = 0.79; age, rho = 0.73), supraventricular arrhythmia (supraventricular arrhythmia number pre-exercise: rho = 0.74; age: rho = 0.66), and ventricular arrhythmia (age: rho = 0.54). As a result, age and arrhythmia number pre-exercise were controlled for in hierarchical regression, which revealed that only deep sleep derived low frequency to high frequency (LF/HF) ratio post high-volume endurance exercise predicted post total arrhythmia number (B = 0.63, R-2 Delta = 34%, p = 0.013) and supraventricular arrhythmia number (B = 0.77, R-2 Delta = 69%, p < 0.001). In this study of recreationally active people, only deep sleep derived LF/HF ratio was associated with more total and supraventricular arrhythmias after high-volume endurance exercise. This finding suggests that measurement of sympathovagal balance during deep sleep might be useful to monitor arrhythmia risk after prolonged high-volume endurance exercise performance.