The effects of views of nature on autonomic control

Abstract

Previously studies have shown that nature improves mood and self-esteem and reduces blood pressure. Walking within a natural environment has been suggested to alter autonomic nervous system control, but the mechanisms are not fully understood. Heart rate variability (HRV) is a non-invasive method of assessing autonomic control and can give an insight into vagal modulation. Our hypothesis was that viewing nature alone within a controlled laboratory environment would induce higher levels of HRV as compared to built scenes. Heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) were measured during viewing different scenes in a controlled environment. HRV was used to investigate alterations in autonomic activity, specifically parasympathetic activity. Each participant lay in the semi-supine position in a laboratory while we recorded 5 min (n = 29) of ECG, BP and respiration as they viewed two collections of slides (one containing nature views and the other built scenes). During viewing of nature, markers of parasympathetic activity were increased in both studies. Root mean squared of successive differences increased 4.2 ± 7.7 ms (t = 2.9, p = 0.008) and natural logarithm of high frequency increased 0.19 ± 0.36 ms2 Hz−1 (t = 2.9, p = 0.007) as compared to built scenes. Mean HR and BP were not significantly altered. This study provides evidence that autonomic control of the heart is altered by the simple act of just viewing natural scenes with an increase in vagal activity.

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Acknowledgments

V.F. Gladwell is an ESRC research fellow (project number RES-064-27-0019). D.K. Brown is supported by a BHF studentship Grant FS/10/32/28204. The study was also supported by Academy of Finland (project number 126873).

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Correspondence to V. F. Gladwell.

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Communicated by Susan A. Ward.

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Gladwell, V.F., Brown, D.K., Barton, J.L. et al. The effects of views of nature on autonomic control. Eur J Appl Physiol 112, 3379–3386 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2318-8

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Keywords

  • Environment
  • Nature
  • Cardiovascular
  • Autonomic control
  • Vagal activity