Living in a city affects our lives beyond just giving us access to a thriving nightlife or trendy shops. In fact, recent research suggests that city living can have negative effects on our health and play a huge role in the increased risk of hypertension and heart disease.
How can living in a city put you at risk for heart disease? Is it due to the fast pace of life associated with urban living or could it be the stressful experience of constant bumper-to-bumper traffic? According to a study recently published in the European Heart Journal, the answer has to do with air pollution. The study found that air pollution is directly linked to hypertension, or high blood pressure, and long periods of exposure to high volumes of air pollution can put you at risk for heart disease.
European researchers designed a study that involved over 41,000 participants living in Norway, Spain, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden and observed their lives over the course of three years. Participants’ information regarding blood pressure was recorded at the beginning of the study, and researchers administered physical examinations periodically to record the progression of participants’ health.
Along with monitoring the participants’ health, researchers monitored air pollution in the areas where the participants lived using air filters that measured the concentration of polluting particles, otherwise known as “particle matter.” Measurements were taken at 20 sites in each of the areas being studied, and measurements of nitrogen oxide were taken at 40 different sites in the area.
The key to the design of this study is that researchers included areas that varied in population. This variation allowed the researchers to have a baseline comparison between city life and life in less crowded areas, giving them an even stronger argument for the detrimental effects of air pollution for heart disease and other dangers.
As mentioned before, participants living in the areas with greater air pollution had higher self-reported hypertension as well as an overall higher intake of anti-hypertensive medication. Hypertension, as we know, is linked to higher heart disease risk.
What Do We Do Now?
After discovering the negative effects of high air pollution for heart disease risk, the next question to ask is what do we can do with this information. In the study, researchers advocated for stricter air pollution regulations and laws. The researchers recommended having the legal level of air pollution deemed as healthy to be re-evaluated, using the current results of this study as a guideline for what is truly safe.
Although there is still much more to be researched about the effects of air pollution on heart disease risk, this study provides a foundation for environmental policies and medical interventions that aim to combat the negative effects of polluted air.