Health Effects of a Long Commute and How to Counteract Them

by Head Health Nutter on April 2, 2016

Having some trouble coping with a longer-than-you-wish commute? Then you’ll really appreciate today’s article by guest blogger, Sarah Landrum. Keep reading to find out some of the drawbacks to a long commute and how to make it better without quitting your job. 

The commute to work is usually the worst part of the day, and the commute back home is the best part of the day – after you get through it. That seems to be the goal for most commuters. The journey from point A to point B is fraught with road rage, anxiety and ridiculous traffic.

Combine the effects of a long day at work with a long commute, and that spells trouble for the mind, the body and society. Fortunately, there are ways to counteract these adverse effects.

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Longer Car Commutes Make for Bigger Bellies and Bad Heart Health

One 2011 study found that Texas residents were more likely to be overweight in proportion to the farther they commuted every day. The study included 4,297 residents who had a comprehensive medical exam between 2000 and 2007 and who worked in 12 Texas metropolitan counties.

Models were adjusted for family history and habits such as smoking. BMI, waist circumference, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The farther commuters traveled, the more adversely weight, blood pressure and cardiovascular health were affected.

Another study pegs an exact amount. For every hour you spend in a car, you are 6 percent more likely to be obese. Obesity is a known risk factor for heart health and other health conditions.

How do you counteract it? The same study that links commute length to obesity reports that walking reduces this risk, greatly, whether it’s by being active at work or parking your car farther from the entrance. Other studies report that losing just 10% of your body weight can have substantial benefits.

Get your body moving! Do some light Tai Chi. Walk to the other side of the office. Set goals for movement while at work, and challenge yourself to change your routine.

Healthy Commutes Are Strongly Linked to Social Capital

Wake everyone up around the same time every day, shove them into cars or buses, and then tightly squeeze them together. Leave everyone there for at least 30 minutes. Now imagine a city, in the space of two hours, with this happening.

Who wouldn’t be angry? Who wouldn’t be stressed? Your commute affects society and therefore social capital, a word choice used for social relationships that assist with developing and building community.

A recent study surveying more than 21,000 people in Sweden states that commuting privately by car harms social capital. Unsurprisingly, the authors link commuting by car to societal isolation and distrust. The authors advise how important it is for society to consider the burden of burgeoning labor markets and the limits of commuting for individual and societal health.

How do you counteract it? Take steps to educate your employer and local city council. Learn about alternative routes and methods of travel. A change of scenery is always good. Encourage co-workers to carpool together to save gas, get to know each other and prevent societal road rage. Grow that social capital!

Commuter Stress Affects Personal Well-Being

Traffic jams have the power to make the most empathetic person have severe anxiety and road rage. You don’t have to tell anyone that stress is harmful to health. In the U.S., a study of commuters on the Long Island Rail Line revealed riders were getting less sleep and were less focused on the day. Drowsy driving is linked to almost 72,000 car crashes every year, though that number is believed to be underestimated.

The U.K.’s 2014 Commuting and Personal Well-Being report noted that commuters were dissatisfied with their lives, rated daily activities less worthwhile and felt much higher levels of anxiety if their commute was longer than 30 minutes. Those traveling 61-90 minutes experienced the worst effects.

How do you counteract it? For many, changing jobs or residence to have a healthier commute isn’t exactly feasible – but it may be necessary in extreme cases. If your commute is drastically affecting your health, work with your doctor and employer to make a plan.

Develop good sleeping habits and focus on small acts of self-care, whether it’s through meditating, walking, eating a good meal or picking up a calming hobby. Set aside extra time in the morning, either before or during your commute, to go to a local coffee shop. It’ll be a good change of pace, even if that stop is only once or twice a week.

Public Transportation Stress Is a Mixed Blessing

The same 2014 U.K. national statistics report reveals, “Of the various public transport options, commuting to work by bus is most negatively associated with personal well-being.” Those who travel by train underground showed lower rates of anxiety. Travel by bus, train, taxi or even walking for more than 30 minutes were not extremely differentiated for affecting personal health negatively.

Avoiding strangers on the bus has garnered a term by social scientists: nonsocial transient behavior. Esther Kim of Yale University explored what lengths people go to avoid talking to strangers on the bus. You are probably well versed in using earbuds, pretending to be asleep and placing a large bag on an empty seat beside you to avoid others.

How do you counteract it? Notice when you are isolating yourself. Talk to strangers. Forget what your mother said, within reason. Keep away from creepy people. Talk about the weather. Get to know your bus driver.

If reasonable for your schedule, take the bus at a different time. Also, consider biking part of the way and taking the bus route at a different stop.

Aside from carpooling, bike to work with co-workers on certain days. Make stops for coffee. Take the scenic route.

Challenge the Effects of Long Commutes With Change

Whether you commute privately by car or use public transportation, studies reveal that traveling for more than 30 minutes adversely affects physical, mental and societal health. Most individuals cannot change jobs or residence just to have a healthier commute.

It’s vital to analyze personal diet, sleeping patterns and self-care practices. Challenge the adverse health effects of long commutes with change.

Bike part of the route to work on a sunny day. Carpool with co-workers. Talk to strangers on the bus. Stop for coffee on your way to work. Ask yourself: How can you improve or change your commute in small ways?

About the Author

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer with a passion for living a healthy, happy life. She’s also the founder of Punched Clocks, a career blog for happiness and success. Be sure to subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on social media for more great tips!

How has this article helped you? Tell us in the comments below!

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