What Your Long Commute Does To Your Health

The longer commute you have, the more health risks you have.

The longer commute you have, the more likely your health is at risk. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Elvert Barnes.

DC has one of the highest commuter rates in the country–anyone who rides the Metro or gets stuck in traffic somewhere along the Beltway every day can attest to that.

While increased population may be good news for the city, it’s not so good for commuters’ health, especially if they commute more than 15 miles.

According to a study scheduled to publish in the June issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the greater commuting distance a worker has, the greater risk he or she has gaining weight or having heart problems.

Researcher Christine M. Hoehner of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said the results are an “understudied contributor” to the already sedentary behavior that’s common among 9-to-5 employees. Various studies have found that the more you sit, the more likely you are to be susceptible to heart disease and early death. Time spent sitting in traffic to and from work every day (be it car, bus, or train) only adds to these health risks, she said.

For the 4,297 Texas residents studied, those who commuted more than 15 miles were more likely to report less participation in moderate or vigorous exercise or physical activity. In fact, they had decreased cardiorespiratory fitness, greater body mass index, larger waist circumferences, and higher blood pressure. Thus, they were at a much higher risk of becoming obese.

Those who have a shorter commute aren’t in the clear, however–employees with a commute greater than 10 miles were associated with higher blood pressure, too. Researchers noted that this could be a result of commuting in a highly congested metro area. “Those with longer commutes may be more likely to be exposed to heavy traffic, resulting in higher stress levels and more time sitting,” Hoehner said.

The bottom line, as with most studies about sedentary life: Get up from your desk more often and walk the recommended 10,000 steps every day.