Comparison of cardiac autonomic modulation of athletes and non-athletes individuals with spinal cord injury at rest and during a non-immersive virtual reality task.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Spinal Cord, 2021, 59, (12), pp. 1294-1300
Issue Date:
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STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study. OBJECTIVES: To compare cardiac autonomic modulation of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) that practice different amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity (PA) and able-bodied controls at rest and during a non-immersive Virtual Reality task. SETTING: Athletes with SCI of wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair handball, WCMX (wheelchair motocross), and para-swimming were assessed at the Faca na Cadeira Institute, ICEL and Clube Espéria in São Paulo, Brazil; non-athletes with SCI and able-bodied controls were assessed at the Acreditando Centro de Recuperação Neuromotora, São Paulo, Brazil. METHODS: One-hundred forty-five individuals were assessed: 36 athletes with traumatic SCI (41.1 ± 16.8 years old), 52 non-athletes with traumatic SCI (40.2 ± 14.1 years old), and 57 able-bodied individuals (39.4 ± 12.5 years old). Cardiac autonomic modulation was assessed through heart rate variability (HRV) measured in the sitting position at rest and during a VR game activity. RESULTS: We found significantly more favourable HRV for athletes with SCI when compared to non-athletes with SCI, but no differences between athletes with SCI and able-bodied controls. In addition, athletes and able-bodied controls showed adequate autonomic nervous system (ANS) adaptation (rest versus physical activity in VR), i.e., they experienced parasympathetic withdrawal during VR physical activity, which was not found in non-athletes with SCI. CONCLUSION: The practice of moderate to vigorous physical activity is associated with healthier cardiac autonomic modulation in adults with SCI, which may lead to more favourable health outcomes. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Identifier: NCT04618003, retrospectively registered.
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