The road to hell
Friday, August 03, 2012

It has been proven that a longer commute is hazardous for your health — here’s why, and here’s how you can get back on track

University of Washington scientists have found evidence that work commutes are hazardous to your health, reports Bill Briggs of Their study found that those who commute 16 or more miles (approx more than 25 km) each way every day have higher blood pressure and are more likely to be obese than those who travel less to their workplaces. Obesity rates are 9 per cent higher in commuters who travel 16 miles or more one way and their fitness levels are 9 per cent lower than commuters that travel 6 to 10 miles (approx 9 to 16 km) one-way.

Lead investigator Christine Hoehner told Briggs that the body mass index (BMI) of commuters rises by .17 units for every 15 miles that you travel — each way. Long commutes seem also to be linked to clogged arteries.

Hoeher reports: “Part of it is that people with longer commutes aren’t exercising as much. But there could be other factors like they’re eating (fast food) while driving or they’re getting less sleep because they don’t have as much discretionary time.”

Another factor? Stress. “It’s about chronic stress,” Hoehner says. “Daily exposure to traffic, the hassles of not being able to predict when you’ll arrive, and having no control over your time because of that traffic.”

Research by the global workplace solutions provider, Regus, finds that 20 per cent of workers worldwide travel 90 minutes every day to get to work and 64 percent of workers get to work by car.

AME reports that just 9 per cent of UAE commuters travel over 90 minutes to their workplaces but car use in the UAE for work commutes is higher than the global average: 79 per cent.

Commute-induced stress can also affect cognitive performance and increase hostility. The 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that while the physical effects of long commutes can include chronic back or neck pain, high BMI and cholesterol, long commutes are also detrimental in terms of emotional health.

Forty percent of those who have long commutes experienced worry the day before their commute, cannot enjoy themselves that day and don’t feel well-rested because of this worry. These kinds of findings held true for both full-time and part-time employees.

Commutes contribute to stress in so many ways: air pollution, noise pollution, physical discomfort and traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is often the largest contributor to stress: it’s been linked to elevated blood pressure and the release of stress hormones. Even public transport comes with a whole host of stressors. Lack of control over one’s environment is extremely stressful. So is overcrowding, unwelcome interactions and violations of personal space.

Do you have a long or stressful commute? Keep a log for a week. Note how long your commute takes you each way. Note what situations you find yourself in, the timing of obstacles and take note of what you feel both emotionally and physiologically. After a week, list the pros and cons of your commute. Evaluate those pros and cons in an honest assessment. Does your commute stress affect your ability to enjoy your non-working life? Does it affect your relationships? Your work productivity? Is what you make for a living worth the costs of your commute in the long run?

You may need to take stock of your situation. Feeling that you have no choice about your work-life because of financial pressures contributes to depression and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. These can dramatically influence your mental and physical well-being.

Talk to your company about the possibility of telecommuting or working flexible shifts. Is there a time of day in which a commute would be less congested? Are there certain days that would be better to travel on? What work can you do from home? Propose a solution and emphasise the savings it could garner for your company and the increased productivity such solutions can generate from employees.

Is moving an option for you? Can you move closer to work? Or closer to a public transport system that will shorten your commute time? Playing music, reading and catching up on work can make public transport more enjoyable.

Can you leave earlier or later for work to avoid congestion? Have you identified alternative routes? You can also practise positive thinking and relaxation techniques to combat frustration and worry.

If your company won’t consider alternatives and these other techniques aren’t alleviating your chronic commute stress, you should consider looking for new work. This could be an opportunity to make a positive change and expand your options. Working on personal development is extremely empowering and satisfying. Your commute may become more tolerable when you know you’re taking action to eventually rid yourself of it. 

Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s an expert in stress management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management.

Visit her: or email her:



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