Previous comparisons of physiological and single-rate ventricular pacing are mostly based on open studies. The present investigation was designed to control possible biases of such a study design with the aim to investigate effects of the two pacing modes on maximal and submaximal exercise tolerance and the subjective feeling of well-being of the patients. Forty-four patients treated with atrioventricular synchronous pacemakers for more than 12 months participated in the study. Their pacemakers were randomly programmed to one 3-week long period of ventricular inhibited and a similar period of atrioventricular synchronous ventricular inhibited pacing. Thereafter, they went through echocardiography, symptom-limited maximal exercise test and answered a questionnaire on subjective symptoms. The study was blind since neither the patients nor the physician conducting the exercise tests were informed of pacing mode. The mean maximal exercise tolerance increased 14% (p less than 0.01) on atrioventricular synchronous pacing. Arterial lactate, respiratory rates and perceived exertion ratings during submaximal levels of exercise were higher on ventricular inhibited pacing, as well as symptoms scored during the two 3-week periods. A majority of patients improved their functional class during atrioventricular synchronous pacing and preferred the physiological pacing mode.