Sex Differences Apparent in Heart Rate Response to Exercise

Slope and intercept of regression lines significantly different for men versus women.
Slope and intercept of regression lines significantly different for men versus women.

Heart rate responses to exercise are different for men and women, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, held in Washington, D.C.

Noting that peak exercise heart rate has been estimated as "220 minus age" for men and women, Nóra Sydó, Ph.D., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues examined a large cohort of exercise testing (25,882 patients; 69 percent men) to assess whether separate sex-based equations are indicated for peak exercise heart rate. Tests were performed between 1993 and 2006 in men and women aged 40 to 89 years. In addition, sex differences were assessed in heart rate reserve and heart rate recovery.

The researchers found that men had a significantly higher peak heart rate, heart rate reserve, and heart rate recovery. For men versus women, the slope and intercept of the regression lines were significantly different (P < 0.001). The heart rate response of men was similar to the traditional formula, while the peak exercise heart rate had a lower intercept for women and decreased more slowly with age.

"The standard that's currently in use is somewhat outdated," a coauthor said in a statement. "We want to make sure that when people do the stress test, they have an accurate expectation of what a normal peak heart rate is. Every so often you need to recalibrate what's considered normal."

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