Walking along a busy street while taking deep breaths might not sound like a healthy thing to do, and it certainly doesn't sound relaxing. But a new study from Tel Aviv University has found that in fact breathing in a little car exhaust—or carbon monoxide, more specifically—in small doses might actually do you some good.
Researchers tracked 36 young, healthy people in Tel Aviv and measured how they were affected by four common urban environmental factors: noise, carbon monoxide pollution, crowds of people, and temperature/humidity. Here's what they discovered:
According to [Lead Researcher Itzhak] Schnell, the study's most surprising finding was that participants inhaled much lower levels of carbon monoxide than scientists had predicted. Even though the students took in very low concentrations of the gas, Schnell says it appeared to counteract the stress of the noise and crowds.
Apparently the carbon monoxide has a "narcotic effect" which chills people out enough that they become less annoyed by all the noise pollution and people running into them on the sidewalk. Weird, it's kind of like cars are a disease that come complete with their own cure! But if that's the case, then why is road rage such a problem? Shouldn't we be sitting calmly in our cars, knocked into a stupor by all that exhaust we're breathing in on the expressway? Perhaps it's not a strong enough narcotic to protect us from the anger brought on by that asshole cutting us off.
Anyway, before you get all excited and run to meditate in the middle of a traffic jam, please remember that carbon monoxide is also called the "silent killer" because the colorless and odorless gas is very, very deadly if you inhale too much of it. Maybe it's better if the next time your neighbor is playing his bongos at 3am, you just stick your head out the window and find relief from the miniscule dose of what the researchers have dubbed the "silent calmer."
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