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Characterizing Heart Rate Variability Response to Maximal Exercise Testing in People with Huntington's Disease.

BACKGROUND: Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant, neurodegenerative disease that involves dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Heart rate variability (HRV) is a valid and noninvasive measure for ANS dysfunction, yet no study has characterized HRV response to exercise in people with HD.

OBJECTIVE: Characterize HRV response to exercise in individuals with HD and explore its implications for exercise prescription and cardiac dysautonomia mechanisms.

METHODS: 19 participants with HD were recruited as part of a cohort of individuals enrolled in the Physical Activity and Exercise Outcomes in Huntington's Disease (PACE-HD) study at Teachers College, Columbia University (TC). 13 non-HD age- and gender-matched control participants were also recruited from TC. HRV was recorded with a Polar H10 heart rate (HR) monitor before, during, and after a ramp cycle-ergometer exercise test.

RESULTS: Participants with HD showed reduced HR peak (p < 0.01) and HR reserve (p < 0.001) compared with controls. Participants with HD demonstrated reduced root mean square of successive differences between normal-to-normal intervals (RMSSD) and successive differences of normal-to-normal intervals (SDSD) at rest (p < 0.001). Participants with HD also showed differences for low frequency (LF) power (p < 0.01), high frequency (HF) normalized units (nu) (p < 0.05), LF (nu) (p < 0.001), and HF/LF ratio (p < 0.05) compared with controls.

CONCLUSIONS: We found reduced aerobic exercise capacity and sympathovagal dysautonomia both at rest and during post-exercise recovery in people with HD, suggesting modified exercise prescription may be required for people with HD. Further investigations focusing on cardiac dysautonomia and underlying mechanisms of sympathovagal dysautonomia in people with HD are warranted.

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