Exercise test is widespread performed in athletes to assess cardiovascular adaptations during effort; however, scarce information exists relative to the behavior of blood pressure during exercise in athletes. We sought to define the normal values and upper limits of blood pressure response to exercise in a large population of elite, healthy athletes. A total of 1,876 healthy, normotensive elite athletes (aged 25 ± 6 years, 64% male) underwent a comprehensive clinical evaluation including maximal bicycle exercise test. At maximum exercise, the systolic blood pressure increased significantly (Δ = +69 ± 18 mm Hg; P< .001), whereas diastolic blood pressure showed minimal change (Δ = +1 ± 7 mm Hg; P= .001). The upper reference values were 220 mm Hg in male and 200 mm Hg in female athletes for systolic blood pressure, and 85 mm Hg in male and 80 mm Hg in female for diastolic blood pressure. A subgroup of 142 athletes (7.5%) showed high blood pressure response to exercise, that is, increase in systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure above the 95th percentile. Multivariate logistic regression analysis showed that endurance and mixed sport disciplines, body mass index, and baseline systolic blood pressure were the strongest determinants for high blood pressure response to exercise.
The gender-specific reference values for systolic and diastolic blood pressure at maximum exercise in athletes were defined. A small subset (7.5%) of athletes showed higher blood pressure response, in the absence of target organ disease or metabolic abnormalities, and associated with superior physical performance and larger cardiac remodeling.