Idling in heavy traffic is frustrating for motorists and damaging for cyclists, according to research conducted by Canadien health experts.
Reported Wednesday in Environmental Health News, the researchers found short-term exposure to the exhaust from heavy traffic significantly decreased heart rate variability in the study cyclists for up to three hours after they finished riding. Experts say reduced heart rate variability is associated with a higher risk of heart attacks.
"A very healthy person is like a Ferrari," said Arden Pope, an expert in the health effects of air pollution and professor at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. "Step on the gas and it really goes fast. Step on the brakes and it really slows down. The human heart, you want it to be like that too."
But with lower heart rate variability, the heart is behaving more like a minivan than a Ferrari, Pope said, meaning that it is less able to respond to stress.
Ditching the bike and getting behind the wheel is not the best answer to the problem, according to the reports. Researchers recommend that cyclists find routes that keep them away from busy streets, and enjoy the health benefits from the exercise.