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The Long Commute to Poor Health

Commuting is tough on cars, but the most troubling thing about commuting is the toll it takes on people's health. Learn more on this Moment of Science.

Traffic jam on Malaysian highway

Photo: lynac (flickr)

Commuting everyday to work for years at a time can take a strong toll on your health including stress-related high blood pressure, back problems, and obesity

According to an article in The New Yorker, one in six Americans spends an hour-and-a-half driving to and from work every day.

This is tough on cars, of course, but the most troubling thing about commuting is the toll it takes on people’s health.

For one thing, spending a lot of time every day sitting in and navigating rush hour traffic is stressful. According to a study done by Raymond Novaco, at the University of California at Irvine, there’s a strong correlation between long commutes and high blood pressure. One common treatment for stress-related high blood pressure is exercise and healthful eating. However, a commute that requires leaving home at six a.m. and returning at seven p.m. leaves little time for hitting the gym or even taking a walk.

Beyond the stress and isolation of spending so much time alone in the car, commuters are plagued by back, and other muscle problems that result from sitting in one position for too long. Orthopedic and spine surgeons are seeing more and more patients whose commutes have brought them to the point of requiring surgery on ruptured disks.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, some health experts cite evidence that commuting contributes to obesity. Sitting still, snacking to alleviate boredom, plus not exercising due to lack of time and energy, they say, can’t help but equal weight gain.

The negative health effects of commuting aren’t always immediately apparent, but after ten, fifteen, or twenty years on the road, they tend to catch up, and when they do, health suffers.

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