Commuting is bad for your health

Commuting is bad for your health – it’s not just you. Commuting has been linked to higher rates of obesity, stress, and depression. Via Vox:

The association between long drives to work and poor health has turned up in a number of different studies (see this Slate article by Annie Lowrey for one excellent overview).

“We’ve found that people who commute longer distances are less fit, more likely to be obese, and have worse metabolic outcomes than those with shorter ones,” says Christine Hoehner, a doctor at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

Hoehner conducted a study of 4,297 Texas workers and found that those with long commutes (greater than 20 miles) had greater rates of high blood pressure and high blood sugar than those with short commutes (0 to 5 miles).

But when researchers probed further, they found that it wasn’t commuting itself that was making people fat. Instead, it was the fact that commuters were less likely to get exercise. When the researchers corrected for this variable, the effects mostly disappeared.

On the surface, this might sound like good news. In theory, the negative effects of commuting can be counteracted — as long as you exercise at home.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that most people seem to lose their willpower to exercise after sitting in traffic for long stretches of time. Economist Thomas James Christian analyzed data from the American Time Use Survey and found that people who spent more time commuting consistently spent less time exercising, sleeping, and making food at home. They were also more likely to buy “non-grocery food purchases” (i.e., fast food or takeout).

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