The time difference between the electrocardiogram and impedance cardiogram can be considered as a measure for the time delay between the electrical and mechanical activities of the heart. This time interval, characterized by the pre-ejection period (PEP), is related to the sympathetic autonomous nervous control of cardiac activity. PEP, however, is difficult to measure in practice. Therefore, a novel parameter, the initial systolic time interval (ISTI), is introduced to provide a more practical measure. The use of ISTI instead of PEP was evaluated in three groups: young healthy subjects, patients with Parkinson's disease, and a group of elderly, healthy subjects of comparable age. PEP and ISTI were studied under two conditions: at rest and after an exercise stimulus. Under both conditions, PEP and ISTI behaved largely similarly in the three groups and were significantly correlated. It is concluded that ISTI can be used as a substitute for PEP and, therefore, to evaluate autonomic neuropathy both in clinical and extramural settings. Measurement of ISTI can also be used to non-invasively monitor the electromechanical cardiac time interval, and the associated autonomic activity, under physiological circumstances. © 2008 Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.