Friday, August 24, 2012

How Your Commute Affects Your Health

If you’ve got a long drive to work, you may come home every day and exclaim that your commute is killing you. You could be closer to the truth than you think. Commuting helps you get to work and put food on your table, but it could actually be harming your health in a number of ways. Any chance your boss will let you work from home? After reading these health effects, you’ll probably want to double-check.

You get less sleep:

If you’ve got a long commute, you have to wake up earlier than you would if you lived closer to work. You’ll also get home later, which means you probably won’t want to go to bed as early as you would otherwise. A Brown University study found that people who commute an hour every day get 30.6% less time for sleep on average. This means you’re missing out on an activity that can help prevent heart attacks, improve brain performance, and potentially stave off cancer.

You have less time for healthy habits:

The same Brown University study found that commuting 30 minutes each way gives you less time for healthy activities. Commuters on average have 16.1% less time for exercise and 4.1% less time to prepare food, a lethal combination for maintaining a healthy weight. Hour-long commutes also take away from time spent eating with your family, which could affect your relationships and overall mental health.

You get fatter:

A study in two Texas metropolitan areas found that people with long commutes tend to have higher BMIs (an indicator of body fatness) and larger waist circumferences. This may be caused by the lack of physical exercise and healthy foods discussed above. Obesity can put you at a higher risk for gallstones, diabetes, heart disease, and many other conditions. Are you sure you can’t bike to work?

Your blood pressure rises:

Related to your weight is your blood pressure. High blood pressure can contribute to heart disease or failure, kidney problems, or a stroke. The study of commuters in Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, found that longer commutes were correlated with higher blood pressure, regardless of how much physical activity a person engaged in. If your work is flexible about when you arrive and leave, try driving at off-peak hours so you aren’t in the car longer because of rush hour traffic.

Your back and neck are more likely to hurt:

Sitting in a car isn’t exactly comfortable. You can’t stretch your legs, the support’s not great, and you’re likely a little tense as other commuters weave in and out of lanes. This can have an effect on your neck and back. Gallup found that one in three people with commutes of 90 minutes or more have a neck or back condition that causes them pain.

You’re more stressed:

Who does that jerk think he is, cutting in front of you like that? How are you possibly going to make it to your kid’s school play with that accident shutting down three lanes? Can you believe you have to do this all again tomorrow morning? Commuting can make your stress levels skyrocket; more than half of participants in an IBM commuter study said that they had anger and sleep problems caused by the stress of traffic. And some drivers have stress levels similar to those of a fighter pilot or riot police officer, according to an International Stress Management Association study. Stress can cause headaches, muscle and chest pain, stomach troubles, and even a change in your sex drive. So the next time you’re fighting the 5 o’clock rush, take a deep breath, put on some music, and relax if you can.

Contacts and sources:
Hannah Peterson

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