The twentieth century saw the realization of the industrial and technological revolutions, and along with them, the rise of modern medicine, the widespread use of vaccines, and eradication of many types of disease. Certainly, it’s fair to say that our overall health has improved over the course of the last century. But, even as medicine and technology have advanced, our general life patterns have shifted in ways that can hamper our overall health as well.
In the past, most Americans’ homes and work places were in close proximity to one another. It wasn’t uncommon in the nineteenth century to walk right down the street to your place of employment, or to even simply walk downstairs and open shop or tend to the crops. But, with the advent and eventual widespread use of automobiles, and accompanying miles of paved roads, Americans have taken to the suburbs by the millions as we’ve gained a newly found freedom to roam further and further from our sources of income.
According to USA Today, it currently takes the average American approximately fifty (50) minutes to commute to and from work each day. That’s about two-hundred (200) hours spent driving to and from work yearly.
Even though we all can recognize commuting is a dreaded but necessary daily routine in twenty-first century America, it’s important to understand the impact sitting in your vehicle for so many hours actually has on your mind and body.
And, because most of us can’t just stop commuting to improve our overall health, below are a number of ways commuting may negatively impact your health and a few tips to help counter the negative health impacts of your commute.
First, many reports conclude spending hours a week commuting can cause us to slouch over in the driver’s seat which, in turn, has negative consequences on posture and can cause chronic back and neck pain. In fact, commuters are more likely to report pains and aches in their backs and necks than those who do not commute to and from work. And, research has shown that driving during your commute is worse than bus or bicycling because you spend far less time walking when commuting by automobile than if you took the bus or biked to work.
So, the longer your commute, the more likely you are to develop aches and pains, and, the less likely you’ll be able to carve out spare exercise time in your day. But, it’s important to find just a few extra minutes, regardless of your commute length, to stretch and engage in some light exercise or yoga. Even if just a few minutes, such physical activity can go a long way in countering the possible negative impacts commuting can have on your posture and help prevent chronic neck and back pain.
According to a report published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas, found that a ten (10) mile one-way commute was associated with higher cholesterol levels and higher blood sugar levels among commuters. And, other reports indicate that while only twenty (20%) percent of those living within ten (10) minutes of their workplace report high cholesterol, that number increases to twenty-seven (27%) percent in those who live between ninety (90) minutes and one-hundred-twenty (120) minutes from their place of work.
One contributing factor in this rise in blood sugar and cholesterol may involve the average commuter’s eating habits. Commuters who must drive longer distances may have fewer opportunities to cook and eat a well-balanced meal. Fast food chains provide an easy and quick option for those who lack time to prepare a meal and fast food is readily available to commuters almost everywhere. Because of time demands many commuters may also eat during their commute, which can also result in unintentional overeating.
Eating a high caloric meal from a fast food restaurant, combined with a lack of exercise resulting from a commuter’s increased travel time, may be a contributing factor in creating a greater risk for high cholesterol, increased blood sugar levels, and other physiological problems as well.
So, one good way to help prevent such problems is to limit your fast food intake. Instead of stopping at McDonalds on your way to work for that sausage and egg McMuffin, pack some fruit and nuts in the car for the trip. Eliminate that supersized soft drink in favor of some juice or some good old-fashioned H2O. By seeking healthier food alternatives to fast food and avoiding the all too frequent commuter’s drive-thru-pit-stop, you can help prevent physiological issues often associated with commuting.
The researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas also noted in their report that people with commutes of at least ten (10) miles each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation. And, a report from the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics finds that people who commute more than half an hour to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all.
One option to improve the mental impact commuting causes is to telecommute when possible. With technology continually advancing, it’s becoming more common to telecommute one or two days a week, which in turn, saves hours of time you have to spend fighting traffic. But, even if there’s nothing you can do to shorten or eliminate your commute, you can still attempt to de-stress during your commute by listening to an interesting audio book, listening to some soothing music, or even try to carpool a few days a week so that you are engaged in conversation with co-workers and friends instead of focusing solely on the nitwit in the car in front of you who clearly received his driver’s license from a cracker jack box.
In the end, a longer commute is often just the price many of us have to pay in order to afford that larger house with a nice yard in the good neighborhood. But, remembering to take some time out of your day, despite your commute, to stretch, exercise, and eat smart, will go a long way in preventing health issues associated with the modern American commute.
You can also find more information regarding possible health concerns relating to commuting when you visit your doctor. And, if you find it difficult to schedule an appointment due to time constraints from your commute, never fear, MeMD is here to assist with convenient, 24/7 online video doctor visits.