What is the role of stress cardiovascular reactivity in health behaviour change? A systematic review, meta-analysis and research agenda

Ainslea Cross, Felix Naughton, David Sheffield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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OBJECTIVE: The stress reactivity hypothesis posits that the extremes of exaggerated and low or blunted cardiovascular reactivity (CVR) to stress may lead to adverse health outcomes via psychophysiological pathways. A potential indirect pathway between CVR and disease outcomes is through health-related behaviour and behaviour change. However, this is a less well understood pathway. Design: A registered systematic review was undertaken to determine the association between cardiovascular reactivity (CVR) and health behaviour change, as well as identify mediators and moderators. Eight papers that met the inclusion criteria, focused on smoking cessation and weight loss, were identified. Results: Pooling data from studies exploring the prospective relationship between CVR (as systolic blood pressure) and smoking cessation found that exaggerated CVR was associated with smoking relapse (Hedges' g = 0.39, SE = 0.00, 95% CI 0.38 - 0.40, p < .001; I2 = 0%; N = 257) but did not find evidence that CVR responses were associated with changes in weight. In order to advance our understanding of reactivity as a modifiable determinant of health behaviour change, our review recommends exploring the association between CVR and other health behaviours, to determine the influence of blunted reactivity versus low motivational effort identify mediators and moderators and determine the focus of interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1021-1040
Number of pages20
JournalPsychology and Health
Issue number9
Early online date30 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


  • Cardiovascular reactivity
  • behaviour change
  • reactivity hypothesis
  • smoking cessation
  • stress
  • weight

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