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Health Impact of Commuting

written by Guest Blogger August 3, 2012

A few years ago I commuted about 1.5 hours per day for my downtown job. Although I loved my work and co-workers, I found my life at the time was extremely stressful. Today’s guest blogger, Jennifer Carrigan, shares proof of just how commuting affects a person’s quality of life.  

The principle of long commutes creating stress is nothing new, but how much does commuting really impact one’s health, and in what ways? A recent study conducted by Washington University in St. Louis has shown that commutes can be much more than a nuisance in our daily lives, as the negative health effects of increased time spent driving are far-reaching and at times severe.

The study, published in the June 2012 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that the longer the commute, the higher the instance of such health problems as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. While these ailments can be caused by a number of factors, several recent studies have shown a link between commuting and several health issues.

Sedentary Motion

It has long been an accepted fact that an active lifestyle is highly beneficial to overall health, but the study suggests that for many commuters, an active lifestyle is difficult to obtain. Those who commute ten miles or more a day were more likely to suffer from hypertension, high blood sugar and cholesterol, while those whose commute was fifteen miles or more were also more prone to obesity.

According to the 2010 US Census, 28.5 million Americans spend more than thirty minutes a day sitting in traffic; thirty minutes that could be spent engaging in physical activity. Even those who were able to incorporate sufficient exercise into their daily schedule were more prone to hypertension and other stress-related ailments and poor cardiovascular health.

The human heart is first and foremost a muscle, and like all muscles it must be exercised to remain strong and healthy. Unfortunately, the stationary nature of driving does more harm than good for cardiovascular health, and high-stress traffic situations perpetuate the problem by subjecting the cardiovascular system to unhealthy spikes.

Grinding Gears Grinds Gears

While most drivers may be hesitant to admit it, commuting has a tendency to be a source of incredible stress. Unlike other health concerns of commuting, driving-related stress is not limited to longer distances, as sticky traffic situations can turn even the most serene of individuals into a raving lunatic in a matter of minutes.

Frustrations with work, family or just the commute itself can come to head while behind the wheel, resulting in a phenomenon known as ‘road rage,’ or angry and aggressive behavior induced by events in traffic. Bouts of road rage have been known to cause violent outbursts serious enough to result in serious injuries or death.

While such vehicular violence may be rare, it is a very real concern and threat to public safety while driving. Unfortunately, these rare instances are not the only stress-related concern on the roads, as driving can cause anxiety in and of itself. A 2002 study done by the University of Hawaii suggests that factors such as constriction, lack of control and the unpredictability of traffic all contribute to the stressful environment behind the wheel. Prolonged exposure to such stressors can have catastrophic effects on one’s overall health, as a study by the American Psychological Association has shown that stress is related to headaches, muscle pain and tension, stomach problems and hypertension.

Additionally, high-stress incidents are common while driving, as accidents and near-misses are common occurrences. When subjected to such events, the cardiovascular system kicks into high gear causing increased heart rate and respiration, which can in turn lead to stress-induced heart attacks and fatalities.

More Car Time Means Less Quality Time

In addition to lack of physical activity and increased stress, excessive time spent commuting can have negative impacts on relationships. A 2011 study by Ume? University in Sweden has shown that long commute times increases the risk of divorce by 40%, and those who face long commutes are more prone to suffer from social isolation.

When examining the available evidence, an obvious conclusion is that working close to home is the best option for cardiovascular and mental health as well as overall happiness. Unfortunately, high unemployment rates contribute to a difficulty finding work near one’s home, so oftentimes other solutions must be found. Setting aside thirty minutes a day for physical activity may seem like a difficult task, but the cardiovascular health benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.

For coping with the stress of excessive commuting, here are two words of advice: calm down.

About the Author

Jennifer Carrigan writes for a few very healthy accountants, who like to combat the commute by bouncing in their seats, doing leg stretches, and lifting weights while in stop-and-go traffic on their way to their accounting firms.

Can you relate to the stresses of commuting daily to your workplace? Please share your thoughts and feelings with us!

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