There’s a lot to dislike about commuting to work: traffic, crowded trains, moody passengers, delayed buses. But there’s another, more serious reason you should dread your daily commute — it might be slowly worsening your health, and in some severe cases, even increasing your risk of premature death.
DNAInfo’s Nicole Levy reports that “the toll our daily commute takes on us has long-term implications on our mental and physical health.”
She looked at research conducted by people like Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology at New York University and a longtime commuter, to find out how our daily commutes are affecting our health. In her article, she highlights seven insidious ways it’s harming us. Here are three of them:
1. Commuting may raise your cortisol levels.
Levy reports that in a 2004 study of suburban rail commuters taking the train from New Jersey to Manhattan, “Wener and his coauthor Gary Evans found that the longer their test subjects’ journey was, the higher the levels of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) in their saliva, and the more difficult they found to focus on the task of proofreading assigned them at the end of their commute.”
Invasions of personal space — something many of us who take public transportation deal with — “had an affect on cortisol levels, too, Wener and Evans concluded in a follow-up paper,” she says.
“Chronic stress and overexposure to cortisol — which increases sugars in your bloodstream, alters your immune system responses, suppresses your digestive and reproductive systems, and communicates with that part of your brain that controls mood, motivation and fear — puts you at risk for mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and a whole host of physical health issues,” writes Levy.
2. People with long commutes tend to get less sleep and exercise, and have higher cholesterol and BMI.
Levy cites a 2009 study based on data from the American Time Use survey, which found that each minute spent commuting translates into a 0.22 minute sleep time reduction. “If you commute an hour each way, you’re losing 26.5 minutes of sleep each day and 2.2 hours a week,” she says. And, as we know, a lack of sleep can lead to many different health problems.
Employees with lengthy commutes were also more likely to report a diagnosis of high cholesterol and a body mass index (BMI) that categorized them as obese, according to the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
“That’s in part because the time we spend on the subway or the road is time we aren’t using to exercise or prepare food at home,” Levy writes.
To top it all off, “the stresses of commuting are also associated — surprise, surprise! — with elevated blood pressure levels,” she says.
3. Having to make transfers during your commutes may raise stress levels even more.
Wener and Evans’ research also supported the theory that the more transfers a commuter has, and the more difficult they are, the more stressed he or she becomes, reports Levy. “That’s because transfers add an element of unpredictability to our travels.”
She adds: “Waiting for subways and buses is particularly exasperating when we have no idea how long the delay will be.”
Research has linked elevated stress levels with an increased risk of serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, and even — in some rare cases when the problem is consistent and severe — premature death.
Read the full DNAInfo article here.