Between 1978 and 1983, 1391 exercise tests were performed by 1083 males and 308 females over 64 years of age. This represents 17% of the total number of 8213 exercise tests. A history of myocardial infarction was present in 53% of the males and 30% of the females, while 12% of patients had previous heart surgery. Exercise was performed on a bicycle ergometer with stepwise workload increments of 10 or 20 W min−1. In 10% of patients the physician stopped the test because of serious arrhythmias or abnormal bloodpressure response. The test was terminated because of fatigue (40%), angina (12%), dyspnea (18%) or tired legs and claudicatio (18%). Peak workload averaged 115 W in males and 85 W in females, which corresponds to 120% of the predicted normal values. Heart rate increased on average to 130 beats min−1 and systolic blood pressure increased to 180 mmHg. ECG changes compatible with myocardial ischaemia were observed in 42% of patients.

Although elderly patients constitute a small fraction of the population referred for exercise testing, these findings indicate that the clinical value of the test when performed is similar to that in younger patients. The observation that most patients achieved higher than ‘normal’ maximum workloads may be due to unreliability of the reference values.

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