No one–not even the most hardened California or New York City commuter–likes sitting in traffic. It’s frustrating, and annoying, and a colossal waste of time. But what does it mean for you, physically, if you are spending hours every day personally experiencing gridlock?
A recent study from the University of British Columbia suggests that sitting in traffic and breathing in diesel fumes and exhaust is bad for your brain. The study indicates that exposure to traffic pollution produces altered brain network connectivity in humans, and that signs of decreased brain function can start to appear after as little as two hours of exposure.
The UBC study exposed 25 test subjects to either diesel exhaust or filtered air, then used MRI technology to measure brain activity. The results showed that people exposed to diesel exhaust exhibited less activity in the parts of the brain that are involved with internal thoughts and memories. Fortunately, the affects were temporary, and the brains of people exposed to the diesel exhaust were temporary. What hasn’t been tested yet, however, is whether consistent, daily exposure might cause more lasting damage to brain connections.
For some years now I’ve lived close enough to work to walk, and I have been very happy to avoid a long daily commute, sitting in traffic, and the stresses those activities produce. The UBC study just provides further confirmation that prolonged daily exposure to snarled traffic isn’t a good thing. If you have a tough commute, the UBC researchers suggest keeping the windows rolled up and making sure your air filter is a good one. And if you’re a cyclist or a pedestrian, they urge finding a route that keeps you away from diesel exhaust.
We all share a common interest in maintaining our remaining brain connections, such as they are, at peak functionality.