The automobile is as American as apple pie, and an estimated 220 million Americans spending at least 90 minutes a day behind the wheel. According to a poll conducted by ABC, Time, and the Washington Post a few years back, 75 percent of drivers in the U.S. equate a sense of independence with their ride, and about 50 percent actually find the experience relaxing. On the flip side of that sentiment, 62 percent claimed they occasionally felt frustrated while driving, 40 percent said they got angry, and 20 percent admitted to giving themselves over to road rage. Could it be that all those toxic feelings-never mind the toxic fumes-generated while sitting in a traffic jam are contributing to heart attacks, which kill almost 450,000 Americans every year? German researchers say yes.

At the American Heart Association's 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Annette Peters, of the Institute of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, in Germany, and her colleagues revealed that the heart attack sufferers they had interviewed were three time more likely to report that they had been in traffic within an hour preceding their symptoms. Women, elderly men, the unemployed, and people with angina seemed particularly susceptible. But traffic happens, so to help you deal with it effectively, here are some tips on how to cope without blowing your stack and damaging your heart.

•Chew gum. Andrew Scholey, a professor of behavioral and brain sciences at Swinburne University in Australia, told attendees of the 10th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine in Tokyo last September that through his research he found that gum chewers were able to reduce their anxiety by as much as 10 percent, and researchers at Louisiana State University reported at the Experimental Biology 2009 conference this month that gum chewing reduces cravings for sweets as well.[1]

•Get to know your ozone and particulate levels. Peters said that a possible contributor to traffic-induced heart attacks is the exhaust coming from cars. A report published in the September 2008 issue of Circulation claimed that the particulates in polluted air may disrupt the heart's ability to transmit electrical signals in people with severe coronary artery disease.[2] If you suffer from heart or lung disease, you may want to check the air quality in your area before you venture outdoors. The Environmental Protection Agency provides such info at

•Listen to something funny. A good guffaw will not only relieve the tension you feel mounting right behind your eyes as you crawl along the expressway; it will also cause the lining of your blood vessels to expand, according to researchers at the University of Maryland.[3] This dilation will increase blood flow, keeping the blood vessels as well as the rest of the cardiovascular system healthy.


[1] Dr. Paula J Geiselman, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2009, April 20). Chewing Gum Reduces Snack Cravings And Decreases Consumption Of Sweet Snacks;

[2] Kai Jen Chuang, Brent A. Coull, Antonella Zanobetti, Helen Suh, Joel Schwartz, Peter H. Stone, Augusto Litonjua, Frank E. Speizer, and Diane R. Gold. Particulate Air Pollution as a Risk Factor for ST-Segment Depression in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease. Artery Disease Circulation, Sep 2008 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.765669

[3] Michael Miller, M.D., University Of Maryland Medical Center (2005, March 19). University Of Maryland School Of Medicine Study Shows Laughter Helps Blood Vessels Function Better;