Autonomic nervous control of cardiovascular function during prolonged exercise in humans
White, Daniel W.
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The importance of physical activity is well established as a means to maintain good health. However, under certain conditions and in some individuals, heavy exercise leads to catastrophic failure of the cardiovascular system. This is especially true during early recovery from exercise. This may be due in part to an improper response of the autonomic nervous system; that is, an imbalance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The purpose of the investigations presented in this dissertation was to: i) re-evaluate the commonly accepted model of autonomic influence on control of heart rate during exercise; ii) study the effects of posture on recovery from heavy exercise; and iii) determine the effect of muscle pump activity on cardiorespiratory control of the cardiovascular system during the transition from active to inactive recovery following heavy dynamic two legged cycling. In the first investigation we examined previously reported and newly collected data and determined a fine balance exists between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems throughout all intensities of exercise. Our conclusions led to the development of a new model of autonomic balance during exercise. In the second investigation we concluded that unloading of the cardiopulmonary baroreceptors by upright posture significantly increases baroreflex control of heart rate during rest and during recovery from heavy dynamic leg cycling exercise. We also show that steady-state blood pressure and the baroreflex control of blood pressure is not significantly different based on orthostatic posture before or after exercise. In the third investigation we concluded that loading of the cardiopulmonary baroreceptors by muscle pump activity during active recovery from heavy exercise diminishes the respiratory induced changes in cardiovascular function observed during inactive recovery. Overall, these investigations highlight the importance of the autonomic nervous system during exercise and during recovery from heavy exercise. Collectively, these conclusions should influence the decision making process regarding mode of recovery from heavy exercise, especially in an “at risk” population, because recovery is the time when most adverse events take place.