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How You Commute to Work Affects Your Health

Tim Boyer's picture
How you commute to work may affect your health.

How you commute to work can adversely affect your health is the topic of a recent study based on a broad look at workforce mobility and work-life balance. Researchers in a cross-sectional study found that walking and bicycle riding to work results in a healthier lifestyle, whereas driving and using public transportation for commuting to work are associated with poorer health. However, one surprising result was that commutes over one hour on public transportation are less stressful than commutes under one hour by car.

When taking into consideration the time involved during a commute from home to work and back, many individuals technically have a significantly longer work day than others. Long commutes are typically a result of lifestyle choices, housing availability, housing costs, access to transportation and job requirements. Balancing how you commute to work with good health can be difficult to achieve, and until recently - little has been studied about the problem.

In a recent article published in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers from Sweden performed a cross-sectional study through surveys of approximately 21,000 individuals aged 18-65 who work over 30 hours per week. In the survey, participants were asked about how they commuted to work, how long the commute takes and how they personally rate their overall health taking into consideration factors such as stress, sleep, mental health and sick days from work.

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What the surveys revealed was that commuting by car, bus or train in comparison to walking or cycling, is associated with poorer overall health. Erik Hansson, the lead author of the study stated that, "Generally car and public transport users suffered more everyday stress, poorer sleep quality, exhaustion and, on a seven point scale, felt that they struggled with their health compared to the active commuters. The negative health of public transport users increased with journey time. However, the car drivers who commuted 30 – 60 minutes experienced worse health than those whose journey lasted more than one hour."

Currently it is unclear why time spent commuting and its effect on health appears to be dependent upon whether an individual commutes by public transportation or by car. One hypothesis is that longer travel on a bus or train allows the worker a less stressful commuting experience than a shorter drive in a car.

The authors of the study believe that additional research is needed to determine the reason for the commute time/transportation mode finding. They contend that determining how a person commutes to work and how it affects health will play an important role in forming future policies toward increasing mobility of the workforce.

Source: BMC Public Health

Image credit: Morguefile