Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Stress-free doesn’t prosper

April 5, 2007

I rolled through the new traffic signal on Lexington Avenue five times this week without having to stop. Three times it was green as soon as it came into site from the north and stayed that way as it disappeared in my rearview mirror.

Having read something somewhere, De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson has joked that he was part of making the city an unhealthier place because people live longer in towns without traffic signals (or something).

That could well be true. I have an uncle a few years older than myself who says he's moving back to the town he grew up in because folks live so long there. Bancroft (for those who don't know where Bancroft is, it's west of Wetmore, east of Goff and north of Circleville) doesn't have a stoplight or even a paved street. It had a brief boom in the early 1900s, but could be pretty much defined as a ghost town in my lifetime. My grandparents grew old there, as did all their neighbors. Only one died young, and by that I mean in his 70s. I believe there are now two inhabited homes in what is now called "the Bancroft community."

It's a pretty stress-free place, but it's not exactly thriving.

So, again, it sounds reasonable that a traffic light would be an indicator of a more stressful community lifestyle, but I decided to fact-check the mayor on the Internet, and while a quick search didn't find any direct mention pairing of traffic signals and heart failure, I did find one study finding traffic congestion did increase the risk and the longer people were in traffic the greater the risk. It's so bad, in fact, it can increase the risk of passengers, in a traffic-stalled vehicle (even a bus).

Apparently, when our brains see a road, there's an impulse to be moving forward and any contradiction to that purpose creates stress that even a CD of gulls calling near the ocean can't overcome. Or maybe it can -- the study didn't go into that. Of course getting blissed out to the point that you aren't ready to lurch ahead when a light changes puts you at great risk of being involved in a violent road-rage incident.

My advice to those commuters arriving in De Soto after battling metropolitan traffic to the east is to take the Kill Creek exit, where stops signs will continue to monitor traffic until the mayor gets a sewer line to the intersection.

We all know the big risk factors of obesity, smoking, drinking, but my Internet search turned up a few other odd risk factors for "the big one." Basically, all are stress related things such as noise, social trauma in childhood, divorce, living in New York City and being a firefighter. I suspect a firefighter caught at a red light on a weekend in New York next to a car with a bad muffler and loud window-rattling bass tunes streaming from a customized car stereo might want to break out the defibrillator.

What I got from all this, other than another reason to avoid the butt-end traffic-signal gauntlet of Kansas Highway 10 that is 23rd Street in Lawrence, is to appreciate more thoroughly my daily commute. I avoid Baldwin's one traffic signal but do have to deal with four stop signs and one four-way stop. I see more cows than cars on the roads between home and work, which could be characterized as back roads except there are no alternatives.

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