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I’ve heard it so many times: “I love this city, but the traffic is killing me.” It seems like a hyperbolic statement, and yet, when people become angry, stressed, and withdrawn, you have to wonder, is it actually killing people?

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But I’m not even talking about commuting necessarily. It’s the sound, the pollution, the lack of scenery that also makes people complain. They dream of trees, of fresh air, and the sound of birds over beeps. City life has a lot to offer, but when people find themselves complaining more than enjoying, perhaps it’s time to take a step back.

A recent study published in the Lancet, in fact, supports people’s seemingly dramatic statements about all that congestion, saying that living close to a major roadway may actually increase your risk of developing dementia. The study defined a road as “major” in relation to traffic volume, like an interstate highway in the U.S. The closer you live to one, the higher your risk of dementia.

Co-study author Dr. Ray Copes, Chief of Environmental and Occupational Health at Public Health Ontario (PHO), explains that there is a “gradient of increased risk as you get closer to major roadways. By the time you’re 200 meters away, the risk is essentially down to baseline.”

Dementia is a brain disorder that affects memory and leads to personality changes and impaired reasoning. The study found that 11 percent of residents who have dementia reside near busy and main roads with a 50m distance. They believe the results could be due to the heavy traffic. More than 2 million Canadian citizens were observed for the study over a time period of 11 years.

About 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, though it is still unknown what specifically causes the ailment.

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Studies have already noted the link between pollution from the air and traffic noise and an increase in nerve degeneration in the brain. For instance, Lancaster University found that tiny particles typically present in air pollution have the ability to lodge into peoples’ brains as they breathe in, potentially resulting in Alzheimer’s. The study found “abundant magnetite nanoparticles in the brain tissue from 37 individuals aged three to 92-years-old who lived in Mexico City and Manchester. This strongly magnetic mineral is toxic and has been implicated in the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the human brain, which are associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.”

A possible solution? Well, aside from picking up and leaving your home, you can try taking advantage of the sauna. One study in Finland found a link between regular sauna use and a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia in men.

This study poses serious questions about the environments where many people live, and provides support to the growing number of people looking to leave cities and escape to nature. If you’re feeling the effects of traffic, make a point to spend more time in nature to offset its damages. Plus, research shows being in nature fights depression, and improves mental health and well-being to boot.


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