The short term adaptation of the autonomic nervous systems (ANS) by type of urban environment and ethnicity

Basem Hijazi, Emanuel Tirosh, Alexandra Chudnovsky, Diana Saadi, Izhak Schnell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Previous studies examined the effects of urban environments on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). These studies measured the effects of environments on Heart Rate Variability (HRV) averaging different time intervals to one value. Yet, the dynamics of change, reflecting the functions and their derivatives that describe the adaptation to the new environments remain unknown. In addition, ethnic differences in the ANS adaptation were not investigated. Method: Forty-eight Arab and 24 Jewish women ages 20–35 years, all healthy, non-smokers were recruited by a snowball sample. Both groups were of a similar socioeconomic status and BMI distributions. Using a portable monitor, the HRV response was continuously analyzed for 35 min of sedentary sitting in each of the three environments: a park, a city center and a residential area. LF/HF polynomial function was adapted to describe the dynamic change in each environment for each ethnic group. Results: Green area exposure was associated with 90% immediate change while in built-up areas, the change in HRV is about 40% adaptive (changing gradually). The adaptive process of HRV may stabilize after 15 min in the city center yet not even after 35 min in the residential environment. The total change (immediate + adaptive) reached 24% in city centers and 10% in residential areas. Changes in HRV rates in the park and the city center environments were higher among Arab women as compared to Jewish women but similar between the two groups in the residential area. The distributions of LF/HF in each time cohort were normal, meaning that shifting the focus to analyze functions of change in HRV, opens the possibility to employ analytic methods that assume the normal distribution. Conclusions: Changing the focus from average levels of HRV to functions of change and their derivatives brings new insight into the understanding of the ANS response to environmental challenges. ANS short term adaptation to different environments is gradual and spans differently both in magnitude of response and latencies between different environments. Importantly, in green areas, the response is immediate unlike the adaptation to urban environments that is significantly more gradual. The ethnic differences in ANS adaptation is also noteworthy. In addition, adaptation proceeesses are normaly distributed in each time cohort suggesting a possible novel ANS index.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114929
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2023


  • Adaptive and immediate changes
  • Autonomic nervous system (ANS)
  • Heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Park. ethnicity
  • Urban environments


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