When it comes to your health, driving is the new smoking.
A recent study by NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (a joint venture between the Leicester hospitals and the University of Leicester) has found that spending a lot of time behind the wheel reduces your intelligence, and it keeps dropping the longer you drive. According to the University of Leicester press release,
The researchers analysed the lifestyles of more than 500,000 Britons aged between 37 and 73 over five years, during which they took intelligence and memory tests. The 93,000 people who drove more than two to three hours a day typically had lower brainpower at the start of the study, which kept on declining throughout, at a faster rate than those who did little or no driving.
Most of the British newspapers covering this story are concentrating on the driving, but the study also looked at people who watched a lot of TV and spent a lot of time on the computer. Interestingly, watching TV was as bad as driving, whereas people who used computers did not have a decline in intelligence tests, “which suggests that computer use has a stimulating effect on the brain.”
I wonder what the results are for people who watch TV while they are driving. Meanwhile, Kishan Bakrania, the PHD student who led the study, notes that driving is the new smoking.
Cognitive decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet — and now with time spent driving.
In the Times, other researchers noted that they were not surprised by these results.
Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Staying mentally and physically active helps keep our brains healthy, so it is not surprising that people who spend a lot of time doing sedentary activities might be more likely to show signs of cognitive decline.”
The abstract of the paywalled study concludes, with my emphasis:
Both TV viewing and driving time at baseline were positively associated with the odds of having cognitive decline at follow-up across most outcomes. Conversely, computer use time at baseline was inversely associated with the odds of having cognitive decline at follow-up across most outcomes. This study supports health policies designed to reduce TV viewing and driving in adults.
There are so many studies that show the social cost of driving and its impact on society. Surely this one supports planning policies that encourage walkable cities, development that promotes people living close to work, in communities where there are lots of options for socializing and entertainment, and perhaps not a few libraries.
And of course, you should get on your bike and read lots of TreeHugger, preferably not while you are on your bike.