We don’t think often of the background noise that surrounds us. It becomes part of the furniture, another element of day to day life that just is. Usually we only notice when our surroundings become unusually quiet – and we’ll note the absence of background noise such as traffic, radio and television
Now comes a study recently published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that shows that the everyday background noise we live with is a stressor that contributes in a measurable way to our long-term heart health. The association between noise exposure, particularly high noise levels, and cardiovascular disease is known from previous studies.
Now researchers at the Helmholtz Zentrum München in Munich, Germany, show how exposure to noise during everyday life influences heart rate variability, i.e. the ability of your heart to adjust the rate at which your heart beats during an acute stressful event. Specifically, how the heart responds to a specific stressor and our hormonal stress response is activated.
In this study of 110 men and women, average age 61, participants were equipped with portable ECG devices to record their heart rate when exposed for six hours to noise both above and below a threshold of 65 decibels (dB). "The study showed that not only higher noise levels have a stressful effect and are harmful to health, but that lower noise levels can cause adverse health effects, too," said Professor Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) at Helmholtz Zentrum München.
In layman’s terms, even a routine phenomena such as barely noticeable traffic noise triggers our stress response, causing our body to release “fight or flight” hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, elevated levels of which are associated with chronic diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to arthritis.
* * * * *
Story Source: Ute Kraus, Alexandra Schneider, Susanne Breitner, Regina Hampel, Regina Rückerl, Mike Pitz, Uta Geruschkat, Petra Belcredi, Katja Radon, Annette Peters. Individual Day-Time Noise Exposure During Routine Activities and Heart Rate Variability in Adults: A Repeated Measures Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2013; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1205606