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Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Oct;119(10):1373-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003321. Epub 2011 Jun 14.

Traffic-related air pollution and acute changes in heart rate variability and respiratory function in urban cyclists.

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Air Health Sciences Division, Health Canada, Ottawa, Canada.



Few studies have examined the acute health effects of air pollution exposures experienced while cycling in traffic.


We conducted a crossover study to examine the relationship between traffic pollution and acute changes in heart rate variability. We also collected spirometry and exhaled nitric oxide measures.


Forty-two healthy adults cycled for 1 hr on high- and low-traffic routes as well as indoors. Health measures were collected before cycling and 1-4 hr after the start of cycling. Ultrafine particles (UFPs; ≤ 0.1 μm in aerodynamic diameter), particulate matter ≤ 2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5), black carbon, and volatile organic compounds were measured along each cycling route, and ambient nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) levels were recorded from a fixed-site monitor. Mixed-effects models were used to estimate associations between air pollutants and changes in health outcome measures relative to precycling baseline values.


An interquartile range increase in UFP levels (18,200/cm3) was associated with a significant decrease in high-frequency power 4 hr after the start of cycling [β = -224 msec2; 95% confidence interval (CI), -386 to -63 msec2]. Ambient NO2 levels were inversely associated with the standard deviation of normal-to-normal (NN) intervals (β = -10 msec; 95% CI, -20 to -0.34 msec) and positively associated with the ratio of low-frequency to high-frequency power (β = 1.4; 95% CI, 0.35 to 2.5) 2 hr after the start of cycling. We also observed significant inverse associations between ambient O3 levels and the root mean square of successive differences in adjacent NN intervals 3 hr after the start of cycling.


Short-term exposures to traffic pollution may contribute to altered autonomic modulation of the heart in the hours immediately after cycling.

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