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Driving in an urban environment, the stress response and effects of exercise

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Driving may be detrimental to health, with one hypothesis suggesting that driving may elicit an acute stress response and, with repeated exposures, may become a chronic stressor. The present study examined the stress response to driving and the effectiveness of a prior exercise bout in dampening this response. Twenty healthy adults performed three tasks: control, driving and exercise plus driving. Heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure (BP) and cortisol were measured to quantify the acute stress response to each condition. Data indicated a stress response to driving: HR was elevated and HRV was reduced during the driving task compared with control. HR was elevated and HRV was reduced comparing the exercise plus driving with the driving condition. BP and cortisol were not different among conditions. The potential of interventions, such as exercise, to counter daily stressors should be evaluated to safeguard long-term health.

Practitioner Summary: this study confirms that driving induces a stress response, with the exercise intervention providing mixed results (an increase in cardiovascular measures and a decrease in cortisol measure trending significance). Given the known consequences of stress and evidence that exercise can mitigate acute stress, further evaluation of exercise interventions is recommended.
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Keywords: Driving; cardiovascular disease; cortisol; heart rate variability; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Exercise Health and Performance Research group, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, Lidcombe, Australia 2: Prevention Research Collaboration, School of Public Health, Sydney Medical School, Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia

Publication date: September 2, 2018

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