• Heart rate variability;
  • Low frequency;
  • High frequency;
  • Sympathetic cardiac control;
  • Autonomic balance;
  • Baroreflex


This article evaluates the suitability of low frequency (LF) heart rate variability (HRV) as an index of sympathetic cardiac control and the LF/high frequency (HF) ratio as an index of autonomic balance. It includes a comprehensive literature review and a reanalysis of some previous studies on autonomic cardiovascular regulation. The following sources of evidence are addressed: effects of manipulations affecting sympathetic and vagal activity on HRV, predictions of group differences in cardiac autonomic regulation from HRV, relationships between HRV and other cardiac parameters, and the theoretical and mathematical bases of the concept of autonomic balance. Available data challenge the interpretation of the LF and LF/HF ratio as indices of sympathetic cardiac control and autonomic balance, respectively, and suggest that the HRV power spectrum, including its LF component, is mainly determined by the parasympathetic system.