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How Does Traffic Affect Our Health?

How Does Traffic Affect Our Health?

Like many of you, I dislike driving in heavy traffic. But unlike many of you, I usually don’t have to. I live and work in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, and my job is just steps from my home. Driving in the mountains can be challenging, but that’s mostly because of twists and turns in the roads, not traffic.  For occasional business meetings and appointments, I venture down into Silicon Valley and even into San Francisco. As I crawl through town after congested town, or sit bumper-to-bumper on traffic-jammed highways, I’m always struck with how lucky I am that I don’t have to deal with this daily grind. I’m also filled with compassion for all of you who do.

Fortunately, there are tools that can help make your morning and evening commutes considerably easier – on your mental, emotional and physical health.

The Tolls of Traffic

On a recent weekday morning, a list of travel advisories for metropolitan areas around the country popped up on my kitchen television.

  • Washington, D.C.: Expect delays. Allow 3 hours.
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana: Expect delays. Allow 2.5 hours.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington: Expect delays. Allow 2 hours.

With light traffic, the typical commute in most urban areas would take about a half-hour. But, as you well know, light traffic happens mostly in the dead of night, not during the morning rush hour.

In 2011, we Americans whiled away 5.5 billion hours of our time, burned through 2.9 billion gallons of fuel, and shelled out $121 billion of our hard-earned money driving in stop-and-go traffic on our nation’s highways. These stunning figures appear in the 2012 Urban Mobility Report of the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

Today the high dollar cost of traffic congestion can be quantified, thanks to GPS-enabled vehicles that collect data nationwide. But what about the mental, emotional and physical tolls on all of us who collectively spend those 5.5 billion extra hours a year behind the wheel?  Although quantitative data on the costs to our health and well-being is less plentiful than data on the costs to our pocketbook, what is available shows that we are paying a very high personal price as well.  Traffic dwellers are more prone to stress, distraction, aggressive behavior, elevated blood pressure and larger waistlines, says one study released last year.

Heart-Traffic Connection

Even more alarming news came from the American Heart Association. A study has found a link between traffic and heart attacks. “People who have had a heart attack are likely to report having been in traffic shortly before their symptoms began,” stated a release from the Heart Association’s 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention. The association cited a German study that identified simple exposure to traffic as the key contributing factor in heart attacks. “Driving a car was the most common source of traffic exposure, but taking public transportation or riding a bicycle were other forms of exposure to traffic,” the association reported. “Overall, time spent in any mode of transportation in traffic was associated with a 3.2 times higher risk [of heart attack] than time spent away from this trigger.”

The Texas Transportation Institute found that an automobile commuter in Washington, D.C., spent an average of 67 hours in traffic each year. That’s about one and a half traditional work weeks! Commuters in the San Francisco-Oakland and the Los Angeles areas spent 61 hours each; those in the New York City area, 59 hours.

People who drive in large urban areas aren’t the only ones with traffic travails.  “Congestion is worse [than the previous year’s findings] in areas of every size,” the institute’s report said. “Big towns and small cities alike cannot implement enough projects, programs and policies to meet the demands of growing population and jobs.”

Angry man stuck in traffic

How Stress Affects Us

Anyone who’s ever been stuck in morning traffic has experienced varying degrees of heightened stress. In the most congested areas, that amounts to an astounding level of communal stress.

The detrimental effects of stress have been well documented by researchers worldwide. They range from irritability, muscle tension and mild fatigue to depression, sleeplessness, palpitations, memory loss and other cognitive malfunctions, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and the ultimate adverse effect, cardiac arrest.

  • Sources estimate 75 percent to 90 percent of visits to primary-care physicians are stress-related.
  • Billions are spent annually on antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs to treat stress symptoms.
  • A Harvard study showed people living in a state of high anxiety, a primary symptom of stress, were four and a half times more likely to suffer sudden cardiac death.

You Can De-Stress

You can take some obvious steps to avoid traffic: Move some place where there is less of it, change jobs, live closer to your job. If you’re like most of us who live in congested areas, however, you’re stuck – in traffic.

Before venturing out each day, you may already do some yoga, eat healthfully, relax for a few minutes, or shoot for that perfect window of time when you can merge easily onto the freeway. Good ideas. Now here are two more.

Build Coherence and Add Ease

Every day you can consciously add more coherence. We are coherent when our mental, emotional and physical systems are in balance. We feel better, think more clearly and react more appropriately.  When we are incoherent, challenging situations and activities –  including sitting in traffic – can derail us.  Another important state is what HeartMath calls inner ease.  with inner ease, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to flow through challenges:  big meetings, tough days at work or school, and yes, traffic jams.

Happy Guy Driving

Quick Coherence® Technique

Before leaving in the morning, take a few minutes to get coherent by doing the Quick Coherence® Technique.

Step 1: Heart Focus – Focus your attention on the area around your heart, in the center of your chest. 
Step 2: Heart Breathing – Breathe deeply but normally and feel as if your breath is coming in and going out through your heart area. Breathe with ease until you find a comfortable rhythm. 
Step 3: Heart Feeling – While maintaining heart focus and heart breathing, activate a positive feeling. Recall a time when you felt good inside and try to re-experience that feeling.

The Inner-Ease™ Technique

Sometime after you’ve reached your destination, practice this simple tool.

Step 1. Acknowledge Your Feelings – Are you frustrated, impatient, anxious, overloaded, judgmental, mentally gridlocked? Admit what you are feeling.
Step 2. Heart-Focused Breathing – Breathe deeply through the heart area, with ease and a comfortable rhythm. (See Step 2 of the Quick Coherence® Technique.)
Step 3. Draw in Inner Ease and Balance – Continue Heart-Focused Breathing and imagine with each in-breath that you are drawing in the feeling of inner ease and emotional balance.
Step 4. Anchor and Maintain – When the stressful feelings have calmed, make a heartfelt commitment to anchor and maintain the state of ease as you re-engage in your activities.

Learn more in the free download of The State of Ease booklet.

If you practice these steps faithfully both before and after your commute, I truly believe you’ll find yourself driving – and arriving — with much less stress. You may still be using up your money, time and gas, but you’ll be shoring up your heart, mind and body.

By Sara Childre

Sara Childre is President and CEO of the non-profit Institute of HeartMath. Since 1991, Sara has helped oversee and develop HeartMath trainings, educational products and scientific programs. She was appointed vice president and CFO of the institute in 1992, then president and CEO in 1998.

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Would feeling fantastic every day make a difference in your life?  Healthy Highway is a Healthy Lifestyle Company offering Lifestyle Solutions for a Happy Healthy You!   We help people who are…

  • Wanting Work Life Balance.
  • Needing Stress Relief.
  • Concerned about their health and the environment.
  • Frustrated battling allergies to gluten, foods, dust, chemicals, pollen.
  • Overwhelmed with choosing the best products for their body, home, and office.
  • Unsatisfied with their relationships with the men and women in their life and are ready to transform them into satisfying, happy partnerships.
  • Standing at a Career Crossroad.
  • Preparing to start a family and want a healthy baby.
  • Seeking solutions for aging, more energy, and a good night’s sleep!

Are any of these an issue or problem for you?  Would it make sense for us to spend several minutes together to discuss your needs and how HealthyHighway can meet them? As a Healthy Lifestyle Coach with an emphasis on allergies and wellness, Leesa teaches her clients to make informed choices and enables them to make needed changes for a Happy Healthy Lifestyle. What you eat, what products you use ~ on your body and in your home and office, how you talk to yourself ~ it all matters!

Contact me today and Start today to live a healthier, happier life!  Don’t live in Atlanta?  Not a problem.  We do virtual coaching worldwide!

I look forward to helping YOU Live a Happy Healthy Life!  Remember, Excellent Health is found along your way, not just at your destination. 

Live Well!

Leesa A. Wheeler

Leesa A. Wheeler

Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author of two books…

Member International Health Coach Association

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Are You Healthier Than a 100-Year-Old?

Are You Healthier Than a 100-Year-Old?

There used to be this great game show on TV: “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth  Grader?”

The premise of the show was to determine whether or not the average adult  could answer questions based on a typical elementary school learning curriculum.  Contestants would attempt to correctly respond to ten questions.

Along the way, the presumably well-educated adult could solicit the help of  one of several pint-sized counterparts, dubbed, “classmates.”

As a television program, it provided viewers with a slew of hilarious  situations, and forced dozens of adults to admit that they were, “not smarter  than a fifth grader.”

In the two- and-a-half years that the show was on, only two people won the  top prize of $1,000,000—one of them being a former Nobel Prize winning  physicist.

What does all of this have to do with you?

Well, given the results of a recent, nationwide survey, quite a lot,  actually.

The survey took an in-depth look at the habits, preferences, and lifestyles  of 100 centenarians (people age 100 and older) and measured them against 300  baby boomers (aged 50-55) to pinpoint the differences and similarities between  each group.

Looking at the outcome of the seventh-annual “United HealthCare 100@100  Survey” report, may cause baby boomers to ask themselves a rather curious  question: “Am I healthier than a centenarian?”

To help you answer this question for yourself, try (honestly)  answering the following queries:

Do I consistently eat a balanced diet complete with plenty of fruits,  vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates?

The connection between sound nutritional choices and good health has been  scientifically proven countless times, but this message appears to have had more  of an impact on the most long-lived members of our society than on those we  consider to be ‘middle-aged.’ 80 percent of centenarians reported that they  maintain a healthy  diet almost daily, while only 68 percent of boomers were able to agree with  that same statement.

Do I get eight hours of sleep every night?

Catching  Zs for the recommended seven or eight hours each night has been linked to many  positive health outcomes such as: reduced levels of stress, better  cardiovascular health, and a decreased risk for depression. Yet only 38 percent  of boomers say they get the suggested  amount of sleep, compared to 70 percent of centenarians.

How often do you laugh?

If your answer is daily, then keep up the good work. The survey indicated  that, while boomers do laugh more, most of the members of the 100-year-old club  also reported appreciating  the lighter side of life. 87 percent of boomers said they chuckled at least  once a day versus 80 percent of centenarians.

Do you exercise regularly?

Though the majority of centenarians say that they exercise almost daily,  boomers do have them beat—but only by a slim margin (59 percent of boomers  versus 51 percent of centenarians). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  recommends that adults try to get a minimum of about 150 minutes of  moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. This amount is thought to be  sufficient to reap the numerous benefits attributed to regular physical  activity, including: reduced cancer and type 2 diabetes risk, better  cardiovascular health, stronger muscles and bones, and a longer lifespan.

What do you do for exercise?

Both age groups reported that physical health was the most important, yet  most difficult, aspect of health to maintain as a person gets older. How do the  oldest elders work out? Many cited walking (44 percent) and engaging in muscle  strengthening exercises (41 percent) as their go-to methods of staying in shape.  One curious finding in the realm of physical fitness was that more centenarians  than boomers said that they supplemented their work-out regimes with  mind/body/spirit activities such as Yoga, or Tai chi.

Do you regularly communicate with friends and family?

The same number (89 percent) of boomers and centenarians claimed that they  engage in regular communication and with their family and friends, lending  further credence to the connection between a strong social support group and  good health.

So, are you really healthier than a 100-year-old?

Handling healthy habit blockers

Time, energy, illness  and money are often the most commonly cited barriers to leading a healthy  lifestyle.

Interestingly, even though the elderly are sometimes viewed as being sicker,  more tired, and more financially strained than their younger counterparts, the  survey found that fewer centenarians than boomers said that their ailments or  purse strings got in the way of them leading a healthy lifestyle. Additionally,  only 15 percent of centenarians claimed that they were too tired to make good  choices on how to be healthier; a figure not too much larger than the 10 percent  of boomers who said the same thing.

Baby boomers are likely to face some significant obstacles when it comes to  maintaining their physical, mental and spiritual well-being as they get older,  particularly if they are members of the stressed-out Sandwich Generation. The  key is to look for ways to take advantage of the opportunities you do have.

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com  Editor

AgingCare.com  connects family  caregivers and provides support, resources, expert advice and senior housing  options for people caring for their elderly parents. AgingCare.com is a trusted  resource that visitors rely on every day to find inspiration, make informed  decisions, and ease the stress of caregiving.

6 Stress Management Tips from Around the World

6 Stress Management Tips from Around the World

 

How do you decompress after a long day or week? What do you consider  relaxing? They answer may change based on where you live. Check out some of the  ways people across the globe manage their stress, and let us know your  techniques in the comments.

1. Brazil

It’s all about balance in sunny Brazil. In this laid-back country, relaxation  and time with loved ones are built into your everyday life. It’s not about  working hard so you can relax when you retire, it’s about enjoying life’s simple  pleasures every day. Indeed, Brazilians truly have relaxation down to an  art form.

 

2. China

If you stroll through a city park in China, you’re might stumble upon a very  curious sight — several dozen people, sometimes hundreds, all exercising  together. Tai-chi, yoga, ballroom dancing — you name it, the Chinese are doing  it. It’s as much a social event as it is a workout.

 

3. Finland

Nothing says relaxing to Finns like a trip to the sauna. Indeed, in Finland,  letting off steam in a sauna with friends is a weekly activity — it’s not  considered a luxury like it is in most other parts of the world. Most Finns  visit the sauna at least once a week, usually on Saturdays, with close friends  and family. It’s a social event, though a relaxing one. In the sauna, most  people avoid controversial issues and arguments are taboo.

 

4. Italy

Italians are all about after-dinner strolls. Walking through their villages,  these traditional walks allow Italians to catch up with friends and neighbors,  get some fresh air and, of course, get in a little exercise.

 

5. New Zealand

With a more relaxed work environment, where leaving the office early or  taking time off for leisurely purposes isn’t as frowned upon as it is in the  U.S., Kiwis get to enjoy all their beautiful country has to offer. Outdoor  sports are big in New Zealand, and team sports like soccer and rugby are quite  popular, too.

 

 

6. Denmark

Often ranked as the happiest country on the planet, Denmark has a lot of  things going for it in terms of relaxing. To be clear, Sure, a healthy  economy, an excellent social welfare system, and political stability don’t hurt  the tiny Scandinavian nation’s stress level. There’s another crucial aspect of  Danish culture that plays apart in it too: For the Danes, their homes are their  sanctuaries — private places to relax away from the bustle of the city. Taking  pleasure in being at home sure does wonders for your stress level.

Katie Waldeck

Katie is a freelance writer focused on pets, food and women’s issues. A  Chicago native and longtime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Katie now lives  in Oakland, California.

 

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