Shoppers’ heart rates affected by town centre noise, study finds

Rapid changes in noise levels in town centres and on busy high streets can influence changes in people’s heart rates, new research suggests.

Busy town centre

Scientists from Nottingham Trent University found that constant changes in noise – even at low levels – had an immediate and disruptive effect on the patterns of participants’ normal heart rates.

The team says their findings add to a growing body of research which shows how our everyday surroundings could have wider implications for long-term health.

The study involved using existing mobile and body sensors to measure the effects on shoppers as they went about their businesses.

It is believed to be the first to use sensors to attempt to model the short-term impact our immediate environment can have upon the human body.

The researchers, from the university’s School of Science and Technology, also found that air pressure had an effect on heart rate as well as an impact upon body temperature.

It is known that repeated exposure to external stresses such as noise, pollution and crowded areas can lead to a range of physical illnesses and behavioural issues.

Recent studies have found links between noise and heart related diseases.

Participants undertook a 45-minute journey along a typical high street as part of the study, which is published in in the journal Information Fusion.

Environmental data including noise, air pressure and light levels were collected by the researchers, along with data from participants relating to heart rate, body temperature and movement and changes in the electrodermal activities of the skin.

The sensors used ranged from bespoke devices designed for specific applications, to those found on more mainstream personal devices such as smartphones.

“Repeated human exposure to environmental pollutants such as noise, air pollution, traffic or even crowded areas can cause severe health problems ranging from headaches and sleep disturbance to heart disease,” said researcher Dr Eiman Kanjo of Nottingham Trent University.

She said: “Many people live in and around urban areas and every day will walk along city streets and get around by cars, trains or buses.

“In order to know more about the impact of their surroundings there is a need to monitor and assess people’s exposure and health impact in the short term, as they perform these daily activities.

“We found that rapid changes in noise resulted in rapid disturbance to the normal rhythm of participants’ hearts. If this pattern is repeated regularly then there is a danger it might lead to cardiovascular problems.

“The availability now of cheaper, more sensitive and sophisticated sensors allows us to achieve just this in much more detail than previously possible.”

The team hopes the study can pave the way for further work looking at the use of widely available devices to investigate in ‘real time’ possible health issues linked to external factors in our everyday environments.

They are also calling for decision-makers to develop, implement and improve guidelines and standards to protect public health around urban spaces.

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. The University is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving. NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. The prize recognised pioneering projects to improve the detection of weapons and explosives in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook and seeks to attract talented students and staff from across the world.

Shoppers’ heart rates affected by town centre noise, study finds

Published on 23 June 2017
  • Subject area: Computing, engineering, maths and other technologies
  • Category: Press office; School of Science and Technology

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