Health Literacy

Could Your Commute be Killing You?

Metro Commute

You probably hate your daily commute to work. It’s dull, inconvenient, and often uncomfortable. But did you realize that your commute might actually be contributing to your health problems and, in some cases, even increasing your likelihood of an early demise?

Here are some of the most prevalent ways your commute could be negatively impacting your health:

Elevated Cortisol Levels

In 2004, a study was conducted on a cohort of commuters traveling from New Jersey to Manhattan by train. The research revealed that the longer their commutes, the higher their cortisol levels, and the more challenging they found it to complete a simple proofreading task after their journey. Since cortisol is the primary stress hormone, it’s probably not surprising that commuting could leave you feeling stressed by the end of the week.

Regrettably, persistently high stress levels can lead to a range of problems, from mental disorders like anxiety and depression to hypertension, digestive problems, and even disruptions in your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Under the wrong circumstances, all of these factors could contribute to severe health complications and even premature mortality!

An Unhealthy Lifestyle

Another survey of commuters conducted by the American Time Use survey in 2009 found that for every minute spent on their commute, commuters get 0.22 minutes less sleep. This means that a two-hour round trip will shave 26.5 minutes of sleep off your day. While this may not seem like much, it’s enough to make you less healthy than individuals who don’t commute or don’t have to travel as far.

A 2010 study discovered that employees with long commutes were more likely to be obese and suffer from high cholesterol compared to those with shorter commutes. This is partly because the extended travel time left them with less time for exercise and preparing nutritious meals.

Both obesity and lack of sleep can contribute to overall poor health and a reduced life expectancy. Therefore, these findings are quite alarming for anyone enduring a lengthy commute.

Road Accidents

Just last year, up to 1.3 million people lost their lives in road traffic accidents, and countless more were injured, necessitating the assistance of a personal injury attorney to cope with their day-to-day expenses. If you commute by car, not only are you at a tangible risk of being involved in an accident during rush hour, but if your windows are down, you’ll also be inhaling harmful fumes that can jeopardize your health.

Back Issues

Spending several hours each week slouched in a car, train, or subway seat has serious repercussions for your back health and posture. Regular commuters are much more prone to experiencing neck and back pains, which can lead to other health complications in themselves. If they frequently resort to medication for the pain, this could also result in life-shortening issues.

The daily commute can take a toll on your health, but it doesn’t have to. While you may not be able to address all the issues outlined here, you can make an effort to exercise and maintain a healthy diet, and possibly make improvements to your posture. If possible, consider working from home at least a couple of times a week, and try not to get overly stressed!

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Dr. Jade Marie Tomaszewski is a pathologist-in-training at McGill University, where she also did her degree in MSc Pathology. She obtained her medical degree (MD) from the University of the Philippines, after completing a BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. In her (little) spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, curling up with a book and a large mug of tea, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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