Exposure to sub-chronic and long-term particulate air pollution and heart rate variability in an elderly cohort: the Normative Aging Study

Irina Mordukhovich, Brent Coull, Itai Kloog, Petros Koutrakis, Pantel Vokonas, Joel Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Short-term particulate air pollution exposure is associated with reduced heart rate variability (HRV), a risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, in many studies. Associations with sub-chronic or long-term exposures, however, have been sparsely investigated. We evaluated the effect of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon (BC) exposures on HRV in an elderly cohort: the Normative Aging Study. Methods: We measured power in high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF), standard deviation of normal-to-normal intervals (SDNN), and the LF:HF ratio among participants from the Greater Boston area. Residential BC exposures for 540 men (1161 study visits, 2000-2011) were estimated using a spatio-temporal land use regression model, and residential PM2.5 exposures for 475 men (992 visits, 2003-2011) were modeled using a hybrid satellite based and land-use model. We evaluated associations between moving averages of sub-chronic (3-84 day) and long-term (1 year) pollutant exposure estimates and HRV parameters using linear mixed models. Results: One-standard deviation increases in sub-chronic, but not long-term, BC were associated with reduced HF, LF, and SDNN and an increased LF:HF ratio (e.g., 28 day BC: -2.3 % HF [95 % CI:-4.6, -0.02]). Sub-chronic and long-term PM2.5 showed evidence of relations to an increased LF and LF:HF ratio (e.g., 1 year PM: 21.0 % LF:HF [8.6, 34.8]), but not to HF or SDNN, though the effect estimates were very imprecise and mostly spanned the null. Conclusions: We observed some evidence of a relation between longer-term BC and PM2.5 exposures and changes in HRV in an elderly cohort. While previous studies focused on short-term air pollution exposures, our results suggest that longer-term exposures may influence cardiac autonomic function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number74
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - 6 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Air pollution
  • Epidemiology
  • Heart rate variability
  • Particulate matter


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