Commuting May Kill You (Well, Not Really)

Well, not really.  But it can certainly affect your health.

According to Jane Brody at The New York Times, commuting causes those who do it to lose "hours a day that would be better spent exercising, socializing with family and friends, preparing home-cooked meals or simply getting enough sleep."

The fact that most of us do not live in cities but in suburbs where cars are necessary to get us to work, school, and other activities makes it an absolute necessity to commute.  It's not just workers who commute, Brody notes, but soccer moms, too, ferrying their kids to ball games, ballet, play dates, after-school clubs, putting the same amount of mileage on their cars sometimes as people who use them just to get to work.

Brody points out that's probably one of the things behind our obesity problem in this country. “In places where people walk more, obesity rates are much lower,” Leigh Gallagher, an editor at Forbes and author of a book on the perils of commuting, told Brody. “New Yorkers, perhaps the ultimate walkers, weigh six or seven pounds less on average than suburban Americans.”

A recent study of over 4,000 Texans compared their health with the distances they commuted to and from work. Sure enough, as these distances increased, physical activity and cardiovascular fitness dropped, and blood pressure, body weight, waist circumference and metabolic risks rose, according to Brody.

Another study found that people who commuted more than 30 miles a day were more likely to have high blood pressure, stress and heart disease. In yet one more, women who lived more than 31 miles from work tended to die sooner than those who lived closer to their jobs.

"Regardless of how one gets to work, having a job far from home can undermine health," says Brody. Lengthy commutes were associated with greater degrees of exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep and days missed from work, she notes.

And closer to home, riders of the Long Island Railroad linked long commutes with fewer hours of sleep and greater daytime sleepiness.

My husband commutes about 60 miles a day, round-trip to Queens in New York from Connecticut, where we live, and I can attest to the fact that commuting long distances causes crankiness, sleepiness, and sometimes even depression.

But the good news, Brody writes, is that people are moving back to cities, whether because they want their kids to be able to walk to school, or drive fewer miles to work themselves, or even, as some are now doing, be able to ride their bikes to work.  Kids are also getting their driver's licenses later, too.

If you still need to commute, however, be prepared for the drawbacks.  Maybe try some deep breathing exercises or meditation to relax when you come home.  And don't yell at your wife!


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