Longer commute to work may have harmful effects on health

A new study suggests that commuting to work may be bad for health. It is especially more harmful if one drives or take public transportation. Not only are they less physically fit than those who walk or bike to work but they’re also more prone to stress, exhaustion and missed work than “active” commuters, according to researchers.

Swedish researchers conducted a survey of 21,000 workers ages 18 to 65, and found that those who have a “passive commute”—i.e. driving or taking public transportation—are generally in poorer health than those who have an active commute. The researchers said they’ve only confirmed the link, not the cause, but it’s not difficult to fill in the gaps. Dr. Redford Williams, professor of medicine and director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, said, “We know that people who have a lot of demands and very little control over how they meet those demands are at a higher risk for negative health effects. And when you’re relying on a train to get to work, it’s totally out of your control most of the time.”

Erik Hanssen from the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Lund University, said, “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.”

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, could not prove that commuting caused ill health, emphasized the authors, because it was only a snapshot in time and there were so many other variables at play. They tried to account for the fact that people who commuted in different ways were likely to be drawn from different backgrounds, but the academics conceded this could be a factor in health differences.

Hanssen said of the longer distance commuters, “It could be that these drivers tended to be men, and high-income earners, who travelled in from rural areas, a group that generally consider themselves to be in good.”

“If you miss a train, ask yourself: is it important? Is it appropriate for me to be worried? Is the situation modifiable? Would it be worth for me to take the actions I would need to take to change it?” Williams said. “Obviously you have to weigh all of the factors involved…Probably anyone without a job would be well advised to take one wherever it was. But if you had a choice, you'd probably want to take the one with the shorter commute,” he said.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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