Healthy centenarians have better anthropometric, endocrine, metabolic and immunological parameters than aged subjects (> 75 years old). Heart rate variability (HRV) has been demonstrated to be a good index of the cardiac autonomic nervous system. It is not known whether there are any differences in cardiac autonomic nervous system activity between aged subjects and healthy centenarians. It is possible that differences in cardiac autonomic nervous system activity could represent one of a cluster of factors explaining the extreme survival of centenarians. Thus we aimed to answer the following question: is there any difference in baseline HRV parameters between aged subjects and healthy centenarians? Therefore power spectral analysis of HRV at baseline was investigated in 25 aged subjects (age ⩾ 75 years) and 30 healthy centenarians (age ⩾ 100 years). Anthropometric measurements were made in all subjects, fasting blood samples were drawn for metabolite determinations, and HRV was determined. Independent of age, gender, body mass index and fasting plasma noradrenaline and free 3,3′,5-tri-iodothyronine concentrations, healthy centenarians had lower basal values for total power (1318±546 compared with 1918±818 ms2; P< 0.01) and the low-frequency component (33±21 compared with 50±11 normalized units; P< 0.03) and a higher value for the high-frequency component (77±15 compared with 61±18 normalized units; P< 0.05) than aged subjects. Consequently, the low-frequency/high-frequency ratio (0.43±0.07 compared with 0.91±0.05; P< 0.02) was also lower in the healthy centenarians than in the aged subjects. Our study demonstrates that the basal low-frequency/high-frequency ratio, an indirect index of cardiac sympathovagal balance, is lower in healthy centenarians than in aged subjects.

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