Heart rate variability for determining autonomic nervous system effects of lifestyle behaviors in early life

A systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


An unhealthy lifestyle negatively alters autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity as reflected by decreased heart rate variability (HRV), increasing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. Research investigating the effect of modifiable lifestyle factors on ANS activity in young children is limited. Early identification of these risk factors is vital to improving long-term individual and public health outcomes. A systematic review was conducted to assess the effect of maternal or child modifiable lifestyle factors on child ANS activity.

Following the 2009 PRISMA guidelines, three electronic databases were searched from February 2018 – July 2019 for articles describing human trials between 1996 – 2019. Included studies examined ANS activity of children between 28 weeks gestational age – 6 years in relation to modifiable lifestyle CVD risk factors.

Twenty-six studies fulfilled inclusion criteria. Sixteen studies reported that modifiable lifestyle factors significantly influenced the HRV of children. Increased HRV was significantly associated with higher maternal zinc and omega-3 fatty acid intake, regular maternal aerobic exercise and a non-smoking environment. Child diet and body composition demonstrated some support for an association between these modifiable lifestyle factors and child HRV.

There is cross-sectional evidence supporting an association between maternal lifestyle factors and child HRV. Evidence is less supportive of a relationship between child modifiable lifestyle factors and child HRV. Monitoring the effects of lifestyle interventions on the ANS via HRV measurements of both mother and child may identify child CVD risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article number112806
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


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