Int J Sports Med 2008; 29(7): 552-558
DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-989286
Physiology & Biochemistry

© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

Cardiac Autonomic Responses to Standing Up and Cognitive Task in Overtrained Athletes

E. Hynynen1 , A. Uusitalo2 , N. Konttinen3 , H. Rusko3 , 4
  • 1Sports Physiology, KIHU-Research Institute for Olympic Sports, Jyväskylä, Finland
  • 2Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Kuopio University Hospital, Kuopio, Finland
  • 3Sports Psychology, KIHU-Research Institute for Olympic Sports, Jyväskylä, Finland
  • 4Department of Biology of Physical Activity, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Further Information

Publication History

accepted after revision August 26, 2007

Publication Date:
30 November 2007 (online)


This study compared the autonomic responses to an active orthostatic test and Stroop Color Word Test (Stroop) as well as cognitive performance in Stroop in twelve severely overtrained (OA, 6 men and 6 women) and twelve control athletes (CA, 6 men and 6 women). RR-intervals were recorded during the orthostatic test, the Stroop, and a relaxation period succeeding the Stroop. Low frequency power during standing in the orthostatic test was lower in OA than in CA (1322 ± 955 ms2 vs. 2262 ± 1029 ms2, p = 0.030, respectively). During Stroop, OA had higher relative total power (50 ± 47 % vs. 19 ± 14 % of the individual total power during supine rest after awakening, p = 0.028, respectively) and high frequency power (38.5 ± 9.4 % vs. 13.5 ± 2.3 % of the individual high frequency power during supine rest after awakening, p = 0.035, respectively) than CA. In the Stroop, OA made more mistakes than CA (9.7 ± 6.5 % vs. 5.4 ± 3.0 %, p = 0.045). The increase in absolute total power from the Stroop to relaxation correlated negatively with the amount of mistakes in the Stroop (r = - 0.588, p = 0.003). Thus, cardiac autonomic modulation during orthostatic task and responses to cognitive task and to relaxation, as well as the cognitive performance were attenuated in severe overtraining.


  • 1 Akselrod S, Gordon F A, Ubel F A, Shannon D C, Barger A C, Cohen R J. Power spectrum analysis of heart rate fluctuation: a quantitative probe of beat-to-beat cardiovascular control.  Science. 1981;  213 220-222
  • 2 Aubert A E, Seps B, Beckers F. Heart rate variability in athletes.  Sports Med. 2003;  33 889-919
  • 3 Boutcher S H, Nugent F W, McLaren P F, Weltman A L. Heart period variability of trained and untrained men at rest and during mental challenge.  Psychophysiology. 1998;  35 16-22
  • 4 Carter J B, Banister E W, Blaber A P. The effect of age and gender on heart rate variability after endurance training.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;  35 1333-1340
  • 5 Cohen S, Kamarck T, Mermelstein R. A global measure of perceived stress.  J Health Soc Behav. 1983;  24 385-396
  • 6 De Meersman R E. Heart rate variability and aerobic fitness.  Am Heart J. 1993;  125 726-731
  • 7 Franks P W, Boutcher S H. Cardiovascular response of trained preadolescent boys to mental challenge.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;  35 1429-1435
  • 8 Furlan R, Piazza S, Dell'Orto S, Gentile E, Cerutti S, Pagani M, Malliani A. Early and late effects of exercise and athletic training on neural mechanisms controlling heart rate.  Cardiovasc Res. 1993;  27 482-488
  • 9 Goldsmith R L, Bigger J T, Bloomfield D M, Steinman R C. Physical fitness as a determinant of vagal modulation.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997;  29 812-817
  • 10 Hedelin R, Wiklund U, Bjerle P, Henriksson-Larsen K. Cardiac autonomic imbalance in an overtrained athlete.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;  32 1531-1533
  • 11 Hynynen E, Uusitalo A, Konttinen N, Rusko H. Heart rate variability during night sleep and after awakening in overtrained athletes.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;  38 313-317
  • 12 Iellamo F, Legramante J M, Pigozzi F, Spataro A, Norbiato G, Lucini D, Pagani M. Conversion from vagal to sympathetic predominance with strenuous training in high-performance world class athletes.  Circulation. 2002;  105 2719-2724
  • 13 Kramer A F, Erickson K I, Colcombe S J. Exercise, cognition, and the aging brain.  J Appl Physiol. 2006;  101 1237-1242
  • 14 Kreider R B, Fry A C, O'Toole M L. (eds) .Overtraining in Sport. Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics 1998
  • 15 Lieberman H R, Niro P, Tharion W J, Nindi B C, Castellani J W, Montain S J. Cognition during sustained operations: comparison of a laboratory simulation to field studies.  Aviat Space Environ Med. 2006;  77 929-935
  • 16 Loimaala A, Huikuri H, Oja P, Pasanen M, Vuori I. Controlled 5-mo aerobic training improves heart rate but not heart rate variability or baroreflex sensitivity.  J Appl Physiol. 2000;  89 1825-1829
  • 17 Loimaala A, Sievänen H, Laukkanen R, Pärkkä J, Vuori I, Huikuri H. Accuracy of a novel real-time microprocessor QRS detector for heart rate variability assessment.  Clin Phys. 1999;  19 84-88
  • 18 Martinmäki K, Rusko H, Kooistra L, Kettunen J, Saalasti S. Intraindividual validation of heart rate variability indices to measure vagal effects on the heart.  Am J Physiol. 2006;  290 H640-H647
  • 19 Martinmäki K, Rusko H, Saalasti S, Kettunen J. Ability of short-time Fourier transform method to detect transient changes in vagal effects on hearts: a pharmacological blocking study.  Am J Physiol. 2006;  290 H2582-H2589
  • 20 Meeusen R, Duclos M, Gleeson M, Rietjens G, Steinacker J, Urhausen A. Prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the overtraining syndrome. ECSS position statement ‘Task Force’.  Eur J Sports Sci. 2006;  6 1-14
  • 21 Melanson E L. Resting heart rate variability in men varying in habitual physical activity.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;  32 1894-1901
  • 22 Mourot L, Bouhaddi M, Perrey S, Cappelle S, Henriet M-T, Wolf J-P, Rouillon J-D, Regnard J. Decrease in heart rate variability with overtraining: assessment by the Poincaré plot analysis.  Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2004;  24 10-18
  • 23 Pichot V, Roche F, Gaspoz F E, Antoniadis A, Minini P, Costes F, Busso T, Lacour J R, Barthélémy J C. Relation between heart rate variability and training load in middle-distance runners.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;  32 1729-1736
  • 24 Porges S W. Vagal tone: a physiological marker of stress vulnerability.  Pediatrics. 1992;  90 498-504
  • 25 Portier H, Louisy F, Laude D, Berthelot M, Guezennec C-Y. Intense endurance training on heart rate and blood pressure variability in runners.  Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;  33 1120-1125
  • 26 Rietjens G JWM, Kuipers H, Adam J J, Saris W HM, van Breda E, van Hamont D, Keizer H A. Physiological, biochemical and psychological markers of strenuous training-induced fatigue.  Int J Sports Med. 2005;  26 16-26
  • 27 Ruha A, Sallinen S, Nissilä S. A real-time microprocessor QRS detector system with a 1 ms timing accuracy for the measurement of ambulatory HRV.  IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 1997;  44 159-167
  • 28 Rusko (ed) H. Cross Country Skiing. Malden, MA, USA; Blackwell Science 2003
  • 29 Task Force of the European Society of Cardiology and the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology . Heart rate variability: standards of measurement, physiological interpretation, and clinical use.  Circulation. 1996;  93 1043-1065
  • 30 Thomas J R, Nelson J K. Research Methods in Physical Activity. Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics 1996 109: 144-145
  • 31 Uusitalo A. Ability of Non-invasive and Invasive Methods of Autonomic Function Measurements and Stress Hormones to Indicate Endurance Training-induced Stress., University of Tampere, Dept. of Clinical Physiology, Tampere, Finland; Doctoral Dissertation, October 1998
  • 32 Uusitalo A LT, Uusitalo A, Rusko H. Heart rate and blood pressure variability during heavy endurance training and overtraining in female athlete.  Int J Sports Med. 2000;  21 45-53
  • 33 Uusitalo A LT. Overtraining - a big challenge for top athletics.  Phys Sportsmed. 2001;  29 35-50
  • 34 Uusitalo A LT, Vanninen E, Valkonen-Korhonen M, Kuikka J T. Brain serotonin reuptake did not change during one year in overtrained athletes.  Int J Sports Med. 2006;  27 702-708

Esa Hynynen

KIHU-Research Institute for Olympic Sports
Sports Physiology

Rautpohjankatu 6

40700 Jyväskylä


Phone: + 35 84 05 60 43 43

Fax: + 35 82 07 81 15 01