Health Blog

Can Moving Away from Traffic Help Protect Your Heart?

Living near major roadways may increase the risk of dying of coronary heart disease

October 5, 2010

We city-dwellers already know about the extra risks we face from heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest linked to air pollution. But according to a new study, we may be able to reduce our risk of dying of coronary heart disease by moving away from traffic.

The study looked at more than 450,000 healthy adults in Vancouver, Canada, and found that people who lived within 0.09 miles of a highway or 0.03 miles of a major road were 29 percent more likely to die of coronary heart disease than those who lived farther away. However, people who first lived near heavy traffic, then moved away, were just 14 percent more likely to die.

The first thing I did after reading that was check my own Brooklyn brownstone rental on Google Maps. Turns out I’m 0.05 mile away from a major road, which is probably why I have to clean soot off my windowsill every weekend.

I can’t move, though. Most of us can’t. The busy location is one of the reasons I could afford the rent. Besides, so many people are living in cities now, more than ever before, that fleeing to the countryside isn’t a realistic option. If we’re going to get serious about reducing the estimated 60,000 U.S. deaths per year caused by small-particle pollution, we’re going to have to attack vehicle pollution at its urban source. The American Heart Association recommends stricter emissions standards. We could also work to pass laws against building houses and apartments too close to main roads, or even to make sure the residential buildings are built facing away from winds carrying pollutants.

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Francie Diep holds her B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she took as many science classes as she could in between her major requirements. After graduating, she worked as a TA for biochemistry and functional genomics labs at UCLA. After three years at the bench and chalkboard, she is eager to put her writing skills back to work reporting science stories.

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