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Exploring the relationship between geomagnetic activity and human heart rate variability

Abstract

Purpose

Both geomagnetic and solar activity fluctuate over time and have been proposed to affect human physiology. Heart rate variability (HRV) has substantial health implications regarding the ability to adapt to stressors and has been shown to be altered in many cardiovascular and neurological disorders. Intriguingly, previous work found significant, strong correlations between HRV and geomagnetic/solar activity. The purpose of this study to replicate these findings. We simultaneously measured HRV during a 30-day period.

Methods

We recruited 20 healthy participants and measured their HRV for a 30-day period. We also collected geomagnetic and solar activity during this period for investigating their relationship with the HRV data.

Results

In agreement with previous work, we found several significant correlations between short-term HRV and geophysical time-series. However, after correction for autocorrelation, which is inherent in time-series, the only significant results were an increase in very low frequency during higher local geomagnetic activity and a geomagnetic anticipatory decrease in heart rate a day before the higher global geomagnetic activity. Both correlations were very low. The loss of most significant effects after this correction suggests that previous findings may be a result of autocorrelation. A further note of caution is required since our and the previous studies in the field do not correct for multiple comparisons given the exploratory analysis strategy.

Conclusion

We thus conclude that the effects of geomagnetic and solar activity are (if present) most likely of very small effect size and we question the validity of the previous studies given the methodological concerns we have uncovered with our work.

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Abbreviations

HF:

High-frequency power

HRV:

Heart rate variability

LF:

Low-frequency power

RMC:

Repeated measures correlation

VLF:

Very low-frequency power

References

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R01MH111889 and R01MH101547, Psi Chi (The International Honor Society: Undergraduate Research Grant Fall), and Lindquist Undergraduate Research Fund. We gratefully acknowledge the help and support from the Carolina Center for Neurostimulation.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

MM, CF, and FF designed the experiments; MM collected data; MM and SA analyzed the data; MM, SA, CF, and FF prepared the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Flavio Fröhlich.

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Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Communicated by Westerterp/Westerblad.

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Mattoni, M., Ahn, S., Fröhlich, C. et al. Exploring the relationship between geomagnetic activity and human heart rate variability. Eur J Appl Physiol 120, 1371–1381 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04369-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04369-7

Keywords

  • Heart rate variability
  • Geomagnetic activity
  • Solar activity