Fractal Correlation Properties of Heart Rate Variability as a Biomarker for Intensity Distribution and Training Prescription in Endurance Exercise: An Update

Author: Bruce Rogers1, Thomas Gronwald2
1 College of Medicine, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, United States.
2 Institute of Interdisciplinary Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, MSH Medical School Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.
Conference/Journal: Front Physiol
Date published: 2022 May 9
Other: Volume ID: 13 , Pages: 879071 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.879071. , Word Count: 306

While established methods for determining physiologic exercise thresholds and intensity distribution such as gas exchange or lactate testing are appropriate for the laboratory setting, they are not easily obtainable for most participants. Data over the past two years has indicated that the short-term scaling exponent alpha1 of Detrended Fluctuation Analysis (DFA a1), a heart rate variability (HRV) index representing the degree of fractal correlation properties of the cardiac beat sequence, shows promise as an alternative for exercise load assessment. Unlike conventional HRV indexes, it possesses a dynamic range throughout all intensity zones and does not require prior calibration with an incremental exercise test. A DFA a1 value of 0.75, reflecting values midway between well correlated fractal patterns and uncorrelated behavior, has been shown to be associated with the aerobic threshold in elite, recreational and cardiac disease populations and termed the heart rate variability threshold (HRVT). Further loss of fractal correlation properties indicative of random beat patterns, signifying an autonomic state of unsustainability (DFA a1 of 0.5), may be associated with that of the anaerobic threshold. There is minimal bias in DFA a1 induced by common artifact correction methods at levels below 3% and negligible change in HRVT even at levels of 6%. DFA a1 has also shown value for exercise load management in situations where standard intensity targets can be skewed such as eccentric cycling. Currently, several web sites and smartphone apps have been developed to track DFA a1 in retrospect or in real-time, making field assessment of physiologic exercise thresholds and internal load assessment practical. Although of value when viewed in isolation, DFA a1 tracking in combination with non-autonomic markers such as power/pace, open intriguing possibilities regarding athlete durability, identification of endurance exercise fatigue and optimization of daily training guidance.

Keywords: DFA a1; aerobic threshold; endurance training; exercise intensity distribution; heart rate variability.

PMID: 35615679 PMCID: PMC9124938 DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2022.879071