The adjustment of pulmonary oxygen uptake (VO2p), heart rate (HR), limb blood flow (LBF), and muscle deoxygenation [HHb] was examined during the transition to moderate-intensity, knee-extension exercise in six older adults (70 ± 4 years) under two conditions: normoxia (FIO2 = 20.9 %) and hypoxia (FIO2 = 15 %). The subjects performed repeated step transitions from an active baseline (3 W) to an absolute work rate (21 W) in both conditions. Phase 2 VO2p, HR, LBF, and [HHb] data were fit with an exponential model. Under hypoxic conditions, no change was observed in HR kinetics, on the other hand, LBF kinetics was faster (normoxia 34 ± 3 s; hypoxia 28 ± 2), whereas the overall [HHb] adjustment ( τ′=TD+τ ) was slower (normoxia 28 ± 2; hypoxia 33 ± 4 s). Phase 2 VO2p kinetics were unchanged (p < 0.05). The faster LBF kinetics and slower [HHb] kinetics reflect an improved matching between O2 delivery and O2 utilization at the microvascular level, preventing the phase 2 VO2p kinetics from become slower in hypoxia. Moreover, the absolute blood flow values were higher in hypoxia (1.17 ± 0.2 L min−1) compared to normoxia (0.96 ± 0.2 L min−1) during the steady-state exercise at 21 W. These findings support the idea that, for older adults exercising at a low work rate, an increase of limb blood flow offsets the drop in arterial oxygen content (CaO2) caused by breathing an hypoxic mixture.
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