Walks in Nature May Ease Stress for Heart Disease Patients

Greg Howard
21st February, 2024

Walks in Nature May Ease Stress for Heart Disease Patients

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

In the face of a warming planet, the intersection of environmental factors and health is becoming increasingly important. One area of particular concern is how weather conditions affect individuals with coronary artery disease (CAD), a group already vulnerable to the whims of the climate. A new study from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences is shedding light on this issue by examining the psychophysiological responses of CAD patients to stress when exposed to different walking environments during rehabilitation[1]. The study, known as WE_SENSE_THE_NATURE, is a randomized control trial that delves into the effects of weather sensitivity and environmental exposure on people with CAD. Weather sensitivity refers to how changes in weather conditions can affect an individual's health symptoms or mood. This research is pioneering in its approach, as it considers factors often overlooked in cardiac care. Participants in the study are CAD patients enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program. They are assessed on various fronts, including their weather sensitivity, functional capacity, personality traits, mental health status, cognitive function, and basal cortisol levels. Cortisol, often called the stress hormone, is a crucial marker for assessing stress response and will be measured in saliva samples taken in the morning and afternoon before the experiment. On the day of the experiment, patients are randomly assigned to walk either outdoors or indoors. Their hemodynamic parameters, such as blood pressure, are monitored for six hours, and their stress levels and mood are evaluated through cortisol assessments and mood scales. A cold stress test is also administered to gauge the impact of the walking environment. This study is particularly relevant when considering earlier research that has highlighted the risks associated with extreme temperatures. Studies have shown that both extreme heat and cold can increase the risk of cardiovascular events and mortality[2][3]. For instance, in Japan, the elderly were found to be more susceptible to cardiovascular disease (CVD) after heat exposure, especially during the month following the rainy season[2]. Similarly, a multinational study found that extreme temperatures were linked to a higher risk of death from various cardiovascular conditions[3]. Moreover, the WE_SENSE_THE_NATURE study may also build on findings that link stress responses to mental health and personality traits in CAD patients. Previous research has indicated that individuals with CAD who exhibit a blunted cortisol response to stress are more likely to experience anxiety and possess certain personality traits, such as Type D personality, characterized by negative affectivity and social inhibition[4]. The Lithuanian University of Health Sciences' study aims to integrate these various strands of research by exploring how environmental factors during rehabilitation can influence the stress response in CAD patients. By doing so, it could provide valuable insights into how to tailor cardiac rehabilitation programs to individual needs, potentially improving outcomes for CAD patients. The implications of this research are far-reaching. With climate change expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, understanding how weather sensitivity affects individuals with CAD could lead to better preventive measures and medical care services. It could also inform guidelines for safe exercise environments for CAD patients, ensuring that rehabilitation programs are not only effective but also adaptable to the changing climate. In conclusion, the WE_SENSE_THE_NATURE study represents an important step forward in our understanding of the complex interactions between the environment, stress, and cardiovascular health. As the climate continues to change, research like this becomes ever more critical in helping us protect some of the most vulnerable populations in our society.



Main Study

1) A randomised controlled trial assessing the effects of weather sensitivity profile and walking in nature on the psychophysiological response to stress in individuals with coronary artery disease. A study protocol.

Published 19th February, 2024


Related Studies

2) Heat Exposure Following the Rainy Season Is Associated With an Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Emergency Among the Elderly in Japan.


3) Associations Between Extreme Temperatures and Cardiovascular Cause-Specific Mortality: Results From 27 Countries.


4) Cortisol response to psychosocial stress, mental distress, fatigue and quality of life in coronary artery disease patients.


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