Ambient pollution and heart rate variability

Diane R. Gold*, Augusto Litonjua, Joel Schwartz, Eric Lovett, Andrew Larson, Bruce Nearing, George Allen, Monique Verrier, Rebecca Cherry, Richard Verrier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

714 Scopus citations


Background - We investigated associations between ambient pollution levels and Cardiovascular function in a repeated measures study including 163 observations on twenty-one 53- to 87-year-old active Boston residents observed up to 12 times from June to September 1997. Particles with aerodynamic diameter ≤2.5 μm (PM2.5) were measured continuously using a tapered element oscillating microbalance. Methods and Results - The protocol involved 25 minutes per week of continuous Holter ECG monitoring, including 5 minutes of rest, 5 minutes of standing, 5 minutes of exercise outdoors, 5 minutes of recovery, and 20 cycles of slow breathing. Heart rate variability (HRV) was assessed through time domain variables: the standard deviation of normal RR intervals (SDNN) and the square root of the mean of the squared differences between adjacent normal RR intervals (r-MSSD). Mean 4-hour PM2.5 levels ranged from 3 to 49 μg/m3; 1-hour ozone levels ranged from 1 to 77 ppb. In multivariate analyses, significantly less HRV (SDNN and r- MSSD) was associated with elevated PM2.5. During slow breathing, a reduction in r-MSSD of 6.1 ms was associated with an interquartile (14.3 μg/m3) increase in PM2.5 during the hour of and the 3 hours previous to the Holter session (P = 0.006). During slow breathing, a multiple pollution model was associated with a reduction in r-MSSD of 5.4 ms (P = 0.02) and 5.5 ms (P = 0.03) for interquartile changes in PM2.5 and ozone, respectively, resulting in a combined effect equivalent to a 33% reduction in the mean r- MSSD. Conclusions - Particle and ozone exposure may decrease vagal tone, resulting in reduced HRV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1267-1273
Number of pages7
Issue number11
StatePublished - Mar 21 2000


  • Air pollution
  • Electrophysiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Heart rate
  • Nervous system, autonomic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Ambient pollution and heart rate variability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this