Age- and gender-specific upper limits and reference equations for workload-indexed systolic blood pressure response during bicycle ergometry


Background: Guidelines recommend considering workload in interpretation of the systolic blood pressure (SBP) response to exercise, but reference values are lacking.

Design: This was a retrospective, consecutive cohort study.

Methods: From 12,976 subjects aged 18-85 years who performed a bicycle ergometer exercise test at one centre in Sweden during the years 2005-2016, we excluded those with prevalent cardiovascular disease, comorbidities, cardiac risk factors or medications. We extracted SBP, heart rate and workload (watt) from ≥ 3 time points from each test. The SBP/watt-slope and the SBP/watt-ratio at peak exercise were calculated. Age- and sex-specific mean values, standard deviations and 90th and 95th percentiles were determined. Reference equations for workload-indexed and peak SBP were derived using multiple linear regression analysis, including sex, age, workload, SBP at rest and anthropometric variables as predictors.

Results: A final sample of 3839 healthy subjects (n = 1620 female) were included. While females had lower mean peak SBP than males (188 ± 24 vs 202 ± 22 mmHg, p < 0.001), workload-indexed SBP measures were markedly higher in females; SBP/watt-slope: 0.52 ± 0.21 versus 0.41 ± 0.15 mmHg/watt (p < 0.001); peak SBP/watt-ratio: 1.35 ± 0.34 versus 0.90 ± 0.21 mmHg/watt (p < 0.001). Age, sex, exercise capacity, resting SBP and height were significant predictors of the workload-indexed SBP parameters and were included in the reference equations.

Conclusions: These novel reference values can aid clinicians and exercise physiologists in interpreting the SBP response to exercise and may provide a basis for future research on the prognostic impact of exercise SBP. In females, a markedly higher SBP in relation to workload could imply a greater peripheral vascular resistance during exercise than in males.