The effects of acute aerobic exercise on cardiovascular reactivity in response to psychological stress in trained cyclists

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of acute aerobic exercise on cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress. Twenty-four trained male cyclists (aged 19-26) from local cycling teams and clubs in the Blacksburg, Virginia area participated in this exercise study. These subjects cycled a minimum of 4 times per week, 30 minutes per session and were randomly assigned to either the Cold Pressor (CP) or Stroop Color Word (SCW) tasks. All subjects participated in exercise and control sessions. The exercise session consisted of 30 minutes at 70% VO₂ max and the control session involved several health assessments with no exercise.

There was no significant difference in blood pressure (BP) or heart rate (HR) change scores (peak-baseline) for treatment or interaction effects. Baseline and recovery systolic blood pressure (SBP), however, showed significant differences for the main effect of treatment (exercise vs. control) (p<.05); interaction effects had a tendency toward significance (p=.09) for baseline SBP. These differences in baseline prompted a re-analysis to statistically explore a possible reduction in anticipatory response to psychological stressors. No treatment or interaction effects were found in this secondary analysis.

The results of this study provide only limited support for the hypothesis that acute aerobic exercise reduces BP response to subsequent non-exercise stressors. The effects, if present at all, appear to be stronger in the baseline or anticipatory period. Future research designs should be capable of specifically examining effects in the anticipatory period. These results also provide little support for a selective effect of aerobic exercise on BP reactivity based upon the type of stressor presented.