Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fight hypertension: Ride the bus

   Back in my early 40s, my doctor presented me with a curious diagnosis: high blood pressure.

   This made no sense. I was healthy and active. My cholesterol was perfect, as was everything else save my hairline. The doctor said that lots of otherwise healthy people have the condition, and science has no ready explanation.

    Now I have an explanation: High blood pressure, and hair loss, are caused by one's brake foot.

    The discovery was made when I started riding the bus with increasing regularity to my new job as a college instructor. Riding a bus was not something I could do for many years in newspapers, because of the regular need to hop in a car and go to an interview or attend a meeting.

     I started riding the bus not just to save on gas and all it renders unto the environment, but because driving increasingly was a hassle. Where I live, particularly during warm months, nary an intersection is unadorned with barricades and orange barrels.

     Other considerations aside, I have a formula to tell you if you should be on a bus: It's if you spend more time braking than accelerating.

      Let's face it: That is true in most metro cities. Driving becomes idling — blowing exhaust into the face of the stationionary sucker stationed behind you — as opposed to having the breeze blowing through your hair. (Too often the breeze through your hair is another car's exhaust. No wonder mine fell out.)

    This is not to say I don't like to drive. I love it. I crave road trips. This is also not to say that I didn't first arrive at the bus depot without trepidation.

     The uninitiated might tend to view bus riders as the downcast, the losers, those going nowhere. I knew all along that was false, because I have a going-somewhere son who has used mass transit religiously while living in Austin.  Now that I'm riding the bus, I understand how false the stereotype of these commuters is. Many riders are simply smart consumers. They are smart not only about the dollars and cents they save when someone else drives, but are smart enough to use a low-cost system to their benefit.

     My son is smart. He doesn't drive, and has demonstrated in almost 10 years in Austin that he doesn't need a car. And I do believe that his reliance on mass transit makes him more mellow and better-connected to a city he loves.

     One key that can convince a person to start riding the bus is the realization that time spent driving is time wasted. For me, riding a bus means time to read the newspaper or a magazine, or to grade essays. I can do these when I let someone else ride the brake for me.

       True, you have to organize your coming and going a little better. You need to leave yourself a little more time. That can eat into a day. But if you utilize the time on the bus to your benefit, you've wasted none of it.

      The biggest discovery about riding a bus is that the stress I always imagined accompanying such commuters is not there. Getting to one's job through someone else's labor actually relaxes the body, starting with your overworked pedal foot.

      Not to get to technical, but your plantar bone is connected to your heel bone, which is connected to your shin bone, which is connected to your knee bone. And the muscles that keep each in a state of tension as a driver — grinding at a lifetime's supply of cartilage and tooth enamel — are connected indirectly to your neckbone and your cranial bone. All adds up to headaches, pulse rates that exceed speed limits, and the aforementioned high blood pressure.

       My doctor did not tell me this. My brake foot did.

       Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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