The application of methods drawn from nonlinear and stochastic dynamics to the analysis of cardiovascular time series is reviewed, with particular reference to the identification of changes associated with ageing. The natural variability of the heart rate (HRV) is considered in detail, including the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) corresponding to modulation of the instantaneous cardiac frequency by the rhythm of respiration. HRV has been intensively studied using traditional spectral analyses, e.g. by Fourier transform or autoregressive methods, and, because of its complexity, has been used as a paradigm for testing several proposed new methods of complexity analysis. These methods are reviewed. The application of timefrequency methods to HRV is considered, including in particular the wavelet transform which can resolve the time-dependent spectral content of HRV. Attention is focused on the cardio-respiratory interaction by introduction of the respiratory frequency variability signal (RFV), which can be acquired simultaneously with HRV by use of a respiratory effort transducer. Current methods for the analysis of interacting oscillators are reviewed and applied to cardio-respiratory data, including those for the quantification of synchronization and direction of coupling. These reveal the effect of ageing on the cardio-respiratory interaction through changes in the mutual modulation of the instantaneous cardiac and respiratory frequencies. Analyses of blood flow signals recorded with laser Doppler flowmetry are reviewed and related to the current understanding of how endothelial-dependent oscillations evolve with age: the inner lining of the vessels (the endothelium) is shown to be of crucial importance to the emerging picture. It is concluded that analyses of the complex and nonlinear dynamics of the cardiovascular system can illuminate the mechanisms of blood circulation, and that the heart, the lungs and the vascular system function as a single entity in dynamical terms. Clear evidence is found for dynamical ageing
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