New York City traffic at night, by Flickr user paulobarEnlarge Photo
If you live near a busy boulevard or interstate, you already know how annoying that traffic can be during your daily commute. But according to a new study cited in the New York Times, it may also be the source of a bigger pain: a heart attack.
The news comes from a group of Danish researchers who tracked the health of 57,053 people in Copenhagen and Aarhus for about 10 years. Participants began the study in middle age, between the ages of 50 and 64.
To glean their results, scientists measured the noise of traffic passing by each participant's home, and what they found was alarming, particularly for residents of urban areas: for every 10 decibels of traffic noise, there was an additional 10% risk of heart attack.
"But wait", you ask, "aren't there a lot of variables at work here -- variables like age, race, sex, education, air pollution, and even noise from railways and airports?" There are, indeed, but the 10% figure was determined after scientists controlled for other factors.
The researchers don't fully understand the link between traffic noise and heart attacks. They suggest it might be something as straightforward as the noise's disruption of sleep patterns, which has been shown in other studies to affect heart health.
Also of note: the team only focused on traffic noise inside homes. We'd be curious to know if increased decibels had a negative impact on drivers, too. If so, automakers might make quieter cabins more of a priority -- which would be a welcome improvement in some cases.
Our advice? Until scientists reach real conclusions, eat your veggies, get plenty of exercise, and invest in a good pair of earplugs.