Live near a busy road?

Oct. 19, 2014—There’s no denying that living near a noisy, crowded roadway can be annoying. But that’s not all. If you’re a woman, it could also put your heart health in jeopardy, according to findings of a new American Heart Association study. (Men, you’re not off the hook: The study was limited to women, so more research is needed.)

About the study

For middle-aged and elderly women, living in close proximity to a major road may increase their risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest—that’s when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops beating without warning. If not treated promptly, death can be the result.

Researchers studied data from over 100,000 women collected from 1988 to 2012 and calculated participants’ residential distance to roadways. After adjusting for factors like age, race, smoking, diet and physical activity, they found that women who lived within 164 feet (the width of a soccer field) of a major road were 38 percent more likely to experience sudden cardiac death compared to those who lived at least 0.3 miles away. Each 328-foot (just less than a football field) increase in proximity to a major road increased risk of sudden cardiac death by 6 percent.

The results suggest that where you live could play as much of a role in your heart health as factors like smoking, diet or obesity. The culprit, experts said, may be air pollution, which is associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress. Exposure to stressful noise caused by traffic, which is linked to heart rate and cardiac input, could also be a factor.

Still, researchers caution that more work is needed to fully understand how roadway exposure affects heart health. This study was unable to measure every possible risk factor associated with living near a major road. And it didn’t examine traffic’s effects on men and women of different ages and races.

Read the full study here.

The take-home message
Living near a major roadway may increase the risk for sudden cardiac death. The culprit, in part, may have to do with heightened exposure to particle pollution. Particle pollution is made up of tiny, sometimes invisible pieces of things—like dirt, dust, soot or smoke—that are in the air.Breathing in particle pollution may increase your risk for a heart attack (which increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest) if you have heart disease. On poor air quality days when particle pollution is high, consider:

  • Spending more time inside
  • Avoiding busy roads and highways
  • Choosing activities that don’t force you to breathe as hard. For instance, choosing to walk instead of run.

Minimizing exposure to air pollution is just one of the many steps you can take to protect your heart. Regardless of where you live, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and managing stress all play a role in keeping your heart healthy.


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