http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/05 ... g_you.html
Yes, that traffic jam really is killing you
Experts say prolonged, soul-sapping time in the driver's seat raises your risk of obesity, diabetes, stress and fractured relationships.
By: Joel Eastwood Staff Reporter, Published on Thu May 22 2014
Here’s a cheery thought to ponder as you sit in stop-and-go traffic during the lane closures on the Gardiner Expressway: congestion isn’t just making you late. It’s insidiously harming your health, making you more prone to violence, fracturing your social relationships and sapping your very soul.
The negative health effects of traffic are well-documented, and our collective reliance on cars is tied to higher rates of obesity, diabetes and poor air quality.
“There’s clearly exposure to all kinds of pollutants, some of which are irritants to the lungs, some of which are not good for your cardiovascular system, some of which are carcinogenic,” said Dr. David Mowat, the medical officer of health for Peel Region.
Emissions are worse when a vehicle is idling, making stop-and-go traffic more harmful to your lungs, Mowat said.
Studies show that people with long commute times are less inclined to engage in social activities, be socially connected and be civically engaged, Mowat said.
In addition to the long-term health risks, traffic jams have tangible physiological and psychological effects on the people stuck in them.
“You feel out of control, you don’t have options,” said David Wiesenthal, a psychology professor at York University who studies stress in drivers.
As your car slows to a crawl, your heart rate picks up, your breathing intensifies and your blood pressure shoots up. Drivers become more irritable and have a higher tendency to behave aggressively, increasing the odds of rude behavior, shouting obscenities and cutting other cars off, Wiesenthal said — the ingredients of road rage.
A stressful drive is only exacerbated by unexpected delays.
Murtaza Haider, director of the Institute of Housing and Mobility at Ryerson University, studies commuter stress.
The key takeaway from his research is that, when determining stress, the length of a commute is less important than its reliability.
“People who are exposed to frequent congestion three or more times a week have the highest self-reported levels of stress,” Haider said.
So what’s a traffic-bound commuter to do?
First of all, try to leave the car behind. People who walk and bike to work report significantly lower levels of stress, Haider said.
From a health perspective, even transit is a better alternative than driving because it requires you to walk up and down subway stairs, stand on the GO train or walk to the bus stop.
If those options aren’t possible, try exercising in the driver’s seat.
“Your number one goal throughout your day is move as much as you can,” said Dr. Stacy Irvine, a spokesperson for the Ontario Chiropractic Association.
Irvine recommends rolling your shoulders, pushing your head into your headrest, and flexing your glutes to stimulate nerves and blood flow to your muscles.
Haider says to mitigate stress, information is crucial — commuters need to be told about road closures and congestion so they can plan and manage their expectations.
And consider using your travel time to salve your spiritual side.
When Anglican pastor Ryan Sim was tasked with starting a new church in Ajax two years ago, he quickly learned that his prospective flock was defined by their long commutes by road and train.
“I really discovered a community of people who are hardly ever at home,” Sim said.
Instead of asking worshippers to take time out of their precious Sunday mornings, Sim launched Redeem the Commute, a series of short videos and podcasts available on a website and mobile app.
The 10-minute courses address issues of marriage, parenting and spirituality commonly faced by time-strapped commuters. Sim says he plans to expand the program to speak to commuters across the GTA this summer about ebikes.
(ED: May have edited that last line slightly.)