The Retirement Move That Could Kill You

Living in a city sounds perfect for many retirees.

Plenty of public transportation means no driving. Living in apartments or condos mean no more yard work. And with all the best museums and restaurants around, you'll never get bored.

But that kind of move in retirement could kill you.

We've known for years that air pollution increases your risk of heart disease. A recent review out of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, finally pointed to the mechanism responsible, a type of air pollution you might not think of – noise.

Many studies also show an association between higher amounts of noise exposure and problems with sleep, increased stress, and impaired brain function. In fact, some studies saw direct changes in DNA expression in animals exposed to aircraft noise.

What happens is that excessive noise triggers a stress response in the nervous system. Stress hormones like cortisol represses insulin, which leads to weight gain over time. It also affects blood vessels and increases inflammation. All three of these responses damage our cardiovascular system.

So how loud is too loud?

The researchers note damage with anything over 60 decibels. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels. City traffic is about 80 and sitting in a subway car puts you at 95.

Now, you can't walk around every day wearing earplugs, but they are a good idea any time you're in especially loud situations. If you're at a concert or stadium event, consider investing in a good pair. Similarly, when using power tools, make sure to use proper ear protection.

Our editor, Laura, enjoys concerts (which can be 120 decibels) and always packs a pair of good ear plugs. She likes these in particular.

And it's not just noise pollution that's killing you...

Another new study caught our attention this week. The paper, published in The Lancet, came from a collaboration between Duke University and Imperial College London. The researchers studied folks 60 years and older who walked for two hours during midday. One group walked along a busy, crowded city street. The other walked in the city park.

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The park walkers had significant improvements in lung capacity and lower stiffness in their arteries after the exercise. Those walking along the city street didn't see the same benefits. In essence, the benefits of exercise almost seemed negated by the exposure to air pollution.

This seems extreme for just one two-hour walk, but we weren't surprised. We've seen similar studies in the past.

And we know that heavy air pollution causes about 3 million deaths a year worldwide from things like stroke and pulmonary disease.

That's because air pollution happens when tiny bits of debris make their way into the air we breathe. These so-called "nanoparticles" come from things like car exhaust or wood burning.

We also know exactly how air pollution gets into our blood and how long it sticks around.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh had participants inhale air containing inert gold dust the same size as typical nanoparticles. The gold, which is easy to trace, appeared in the blood within 24 hours. Worse, the gold stayed in their blood for about three months.

And nanoparticles from air pollution trigger inflammation, which as we know leads to problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Now, don't let either of these studies keep you from getting outside to exercise... Just use proper precautions. Check your local forecast for air pollution to see what the rating is for the day. And when you go out, avoid high-traffic areas. Find a local park and take the time to enjoy some fresh air.

Do you have a way to beat pollution and still enjoy city living? Let us know at [email protected].

What We're Reading...

  • Find your local air pollution forecast here.

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 13, 2018