does travel to work affect health

Is Your Daily Commute Affecting Your Health?

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Over the years, the traffic in India has increased exponentially. Gone are the days where you could just ‘get up and go’ to a destination of your choice.

Be it a restaurant, a nearby park or just the house of a loved one, commuting has become a real hassle over the last decade.

Driving to work or taking public transport regularly can have a detrimental effect on one’s health. We all realize that it is stressful, but do you really know how badly a regular commute can affect your health?

Here, I discuss the effects of regular commuting on your health and well being.

If you heard that the average American commutes around 51 minutes a day in total to and from work, you would probably shake your head in disbelief. While this is a lot in the Western countries, in India, the story is a completely different one. While there are no real statistics for the Indian population regarding commute times, just ask a few IT professionals and they will clearly tell you how fed up they are of their 3 to 4 hour daily commute.

First, some interesting facts.

Commuting long hours seems to affect women more than men. The stress associated with regular commutes was found to be higher in women than in men, according to a study published by Novaco and group in 1991.

Another reason for this stress to affect women more is the responsibilities they have to return to when they get home. Many have to cook for their families, look after their children etc. Hats off to those who do this regularly. Men rarely take up this responsibility.

Another fact that might interest you is that those who drive a car to work seem to be more affected by the commute than those who take public transport. It seems logical, as you have entrusted someone else to drive you to work when you take the bus or a taxi. That takes away some of the responsibility and stress associated with driving yourself.

Commuting Affects Your Blood Sugars

The development of diabetes and pre-diabetes is often linked to genetics. However, clinical research has shown regular, prolonged commuting to increase your blood sugar levels.

As time passes, diabetes ensues and treatments need to be started.

Commuting Affects Your Cholesterol

Interestingly, long and tedious commutes on a regular basis can increase your cholesterol levels. Why this happens is not clear but it might be related to the fact that people may be snacking during the journey on foods that are not really good for them.

Long commutes also mean lack of exercise, so it should come as no surprise that cholesterol levels are elevated.

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Commuting Spikes Your Blood Pressure

I have found, and I am sure many other physicians have also noted, that the long commutes often lead to a spike in blood pressure of patients.

This is usually the case when the patient is due an appointment and is running late.

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A clinical study conducted at the University of Utah looked at individuals who had to perform a simulation. The simulation required them to reach a place of work, and a financial incentive was placed on their punctuality. This was compared to those who could take their own sweet time to drive to the same place.

Those who faced the deadline were found to have greater spikes in their blood pressure compared to those who were not under such stress.

The problem with constant spikes in blood pressure is this – over time, this leads to persistent rises in your blood pressure. In other words, you will develop hypertension.

There you have it – stress from commuting leads to high blood pressure.

Simple solution? Set off early. You only know too well that if you set off late then you will be late for work, right?

Commuting Weakens Your Heart

Long commutes mean greater time sitting. I have previously discussed how sitting is the new smoking.

The longer you sit, the greater is your risk of developing heart disease. Even if you are physically fit, longer sitting times and commutes have been shown to reduce overall fitness levels.

If you have a long commute, you could always get off the bus (or public transport) at an earlier stop and walk the extra distance. Try and get in your 10000 steps a day and track it using a Fitbit or a pedometer if you wish.

Commuting Increases Back Pain

Back pain is a very common problem associated with long commutes, mostly because of the prolonged sitting or commutng causes back painstanding. In crowded places, it is difficult to stretch, and this leads to muscle stiffness.

Regular exercise can help you get rid of your back pain quite easily. Rarely is medication required for this.

These are just a few of the problems that are associated with long commutes. All I have included here is a short description of the common issues.

Other problems include anxiety and depression, which can on occasion be extreme. To some, it may even affect their quality of life.

Fixing The Problem

An extreme way to fix the problem is to relocate to a place that is close to your work. However, I appreciate that this is very difficult to do.

Leave early to work. Traffic is usually a lot lesser and you are likely to reach your destination a lot sooner.

Incorporate some form of exercise in your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park your vehicle further away from your office so that you can walk that extra distance.

Get off your office chair every 30 minutes and walk around for about 5 minutes. Engage a co-worker in stimulating conversation. This will help elevate your mood. Any don’t shy away from socializing. After all, all work and no play made Jack a dull boy, remember?

Spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising. It could be a walk, time at the gym or even a swim. Exercise strengthens the muscles, reduces pain, improves mood and enhances cardiac fitness.

Its just good for you, period.

These are just some simple ways of getting over your daily commute affecting your health. As you can see, it requires effort, which I appreciate is difficult after a long day at work and travelling.

But looking at the health consequences, don’t you think it is worth it?






Dr Vivek Baliga B
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