How Does Traffic Affect Our Health

Traffic affects our mental as well as physical health in many ways. Some of the most common effects of traffic on our health are frustration, stress, headache, and cough. Apart from these, there are other ill effects of traffic, which are elaborated in this WellnessKeen article.
WellnessKeen Staff
Last Updated: Dec 21, 2017
On-road vehicles are responsible for 44% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US, one-third of all nitrogen oxide emissions and one-quarter of all volatile organic compound emissions.
- Center for Transportation Excellence

Everyone encounters traffic, either vehicular or denizen traffic. The feeling of being stuck in a place full of vehicles or people gets overwhelming for many individuals, and is the main cause of stress-related disorders cropping up in today's time.
At the 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, the American Heart Association stated, "People who have had a heart attack are likely to report having been in traffic shortly before their symptoms began." This statement was from a German study, that determined that exposure to traffic was a key contributor to heart attacks.
When talking about traffic woes, we also need to take into consideration the pollution that we are exposed to. Breathing in toxic emissions from bikes, cars, trucks, and buses harm our lungs making us targets to various respiratory-related diseases. Given below is an in-depth exposition on how traffic affects our health and what we can do to retard some of these effects to live a longer and healthier life.
Health Effects of Traffic
Aches and Pains
Imagine yourself being tied down in one place, with your arms holding a wheel in front of you, but no scope for movement, with horns blaring in the background and poisonous smoke being sent your way, well, that is your situation when you are driving in traffic.
  • Due to your confinement, you tend to neglect your posture, and end up slouching in the car seat. While driving in a slouched position, pressure comes on your back and neck. The neck muscles are interrelated to your back and shoulders. Back pain is often due to poor posture which can have a negative effect on your health.
  • In the long run, this is not good as it makes a difference on your appearance, and also makes you prone to ailments like spondylitis, frozen shoulder, etc.
  • Your bad posture also puts stress on the joints of your elbows and knees, causing pain and fatigue to these areas of your body.
  • You might be wondering how driving in traffic puts stress on your joints? When you are driving in traffic, you are constantly shifting between the accelerator and brake (in automatic transmission cars), and clutch, brake, and accelerator (in manual transmission cars). This constant shifting puts pressure and stress on your knees, causing knee-related problems and aches.
  • The same goes for the elbows, if the car seat is not at a comfortable distance from the steering wheel, your elbows are constantly straight, or locked. This position is very bad for the ball-and-socket joints of the elbow.
What can you do: You can counteract these ill effects and posture problems, by sitting upright and having a support for your lower back and neck. Adjust the position of your seat in such a way that you can drive at ease without any discomfort. The backrest of the seat should be straight up, and not pulled down too much. These methods take off a lot of stress and help you drive the right way.
Risk of Heart Disease
Prolonged exposure to traffic pollution, is dangerous to your heart, and is associated with an increased risk of heart diseases.
  • According to a study presented at the EuroPRevent 2013 congress in Rome, people who are exposed to fine particle matter (PM) air pollution derived from traffic pollution, for a prolonged period of time, are at an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis.
  • Dr Hagen K√§lsch, from West-German Heart Center in Essen, Germany explained that this study was conducted to establish whether the risk of heart diseases is associated with traffic noise or pollution, or both. He confirmed that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution and traffic noise are both linked with the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • The heart is a delicate organ and needs to be treated with care. Pollution, fluctuating stress levels, loud noises, inhalation of harmful gases, etc. are reasons why the condition of the heart may weaken and deteriorate with time. These factors are significantly associated with the risk of heart attack.
  • Dealing with inconsistent and rash drivers increases your stress levels, as you constantly get irate with the way they ride or drive, or jittery when they cut and zoom past you when you are driving peacefully. This can take a toll on your cardiovascular health.
What can you do: Regular exercise in fresh air, relaxing by getting massages, eating the right food, etc. can help your heart recover from the stress that it has gone through due to the chaotic traffic conditions. Deep breathing and meditation also help in reducing stress levels.
Respiratory Problems
Exposure to heavy traffic implies exposure to poisonous gases that are emitted by vehicles. It is believed that the transportation sector in the US, is responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Our lungs are like sponges, soaking in everything that is inhaled by our respiratory system. The smoke coming out of the tailpipes of cars, bikes, and buses have hydrocarbons, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene, acetaldehyde, butadiene, and carbon dioxide, which present a serious threat to human health.
  • Prolonged exposure to vehicular traffic emissions can cause various respiratory diseases like, bronchitis, whooping cough, asthma, etc.
  • Another lung-related ailment, that can be blamed on long-term exposure to the hazardous pollutants emitted from vehicles in traffic, is cancer. Emissions from diesel vehicles are said to increase the risk of lung cancer.
What can you do: There are ways to avoid breathing in polluted air. If you can, avoid driving in parts of your town with heavy traffic congestion. However, if you find yourself driving through such areas, roll up your car windows to minimize exposure to harmful toxins. If you plan to go out for a stroll or run, do it in a place where you get loads of fresh air. Eat food that are rich in antioxidants, and exercise regularly so that your immune system is strong enough to fight off potential threats to your health.
Other Problems
Traveling from one place to another is inevitable. Given below are some other potential health risks associated with long-term exposure to traffic pollution.
  • The impact of traffic jams on the brain may be a causative factor in DNA and gene alteration.
  • Being exposed to harmful pollutants, leads to vitiated brain capacity and risk of brain damage.
  • Brain lesions, low IQ, lack of retention and concentration, epilepsy, migraines, blurry vision, etc. are the negative effects of pollutants on our central nervous system.
  • Long-term exposure to neurotoxins which are present in the smoke emitted from vehicles, causes degeneration, and in some extreme cases, irreparable damage to the central nervous system.
  • Fatigue, anxiety, and irritability, are also faced by thousands of commuters.
  • Exposure to high volume traffic, brings about mental and physical exhaustion.
  • Dealing with strangers on an everyday basis, especially in traffic, makes you lose your patience and cool. You actually feel like getting out of your car and giving everyone around you a piece of your mind.
  • You get irritated easily, you are snappy, and sometimes even get anxiety attacks.
  • Many a time you feel agitated and anxious while traveling. This may be because you worry that the traffic will make you late, which increases your stress levels.
What can you do: Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf so that you do not breathe in the harmful smoke directly. Keep your cool while driving, by listening to music that you enjoy. Get a car freshener that soothes your mood (pleasant fragrances have the power to change moods drastically, from bad to good!). Turn your car into a comfort zone and remind yourself that getting agitated over other people is never going to help you, it will just make things worse.
Travel and traffic are two things that are absolutely unavoidable, that is why we should try to be as comfortable as possible, to be stress-free and illness-free!
Disclaimer: This WellnessKeen article is for informative purposes only, and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by a medical professional.