We examined putative autonomic and hemodynamic mechanisms that might explain our prior finding that cardiorespiratory fitness mitigates blood pressure responses by normotensive women during the hand cold pressor test. We report that fitness level was inversely related to increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressures and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) during the cold pressor among women but not men. The pattern of responses among fitter women was consistent with decreased central sympathetic outflow resulting in reduced stroke volume or dampened peripheral resistance in vascular beds other than calf skeletal muscle. Fitter men and women had slightly larger increases in blood pressure during mental arithmetic, but otherwise fitness was not directly related to stress responses. The results further encourage consideration of cardiorespiratory fitness as a modifying covariate when the hand cold pressor test is used as a predictor of future hypertension among women.
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