Most of us at some point in our careers have worked farther from home than we’d like and endured a commute to work that involves a car, bus or train – or all 3.  And while commuting may seem like a necessary evil on the path to building a career, or a nest egg, it may be more than just a way to catch up on your reading , or an inconvenient bummer.  More studies are pointing to the ill effects commuting has on our physical and mental health.

While the average US commute is about 25.5 minutes each way, many of us face much longer transit times.  A recent report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer based on U.S. Census and American Community Survey data found that NYC residents face the longest commute times among workers in the nation’s 30 largest cities—an average of 6 hours, 18 minutes per week – or about 45 minutes each way, nearly an hour longer per week than San Francisco.  So what is all this back and forth doing to us in the long run?  Turns out, it’s more than you may think.

Your Physical Health

  • Rise In Blood Sugar: A study published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine from the Washington University School of Medicine and the Cooper Institute found that driving more than 10 miles one way, to and from work, five days a week was associated with an increased risk of developing high blood sugar.
  • Increased Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: This same study found participants also at an increased risk of developing high cholesterol, a precursor to heart disease and stroke.
  • More Aches & Pain: A Gallup survey found that one in three workers with a 90-minute daily commute has recurrent neck or back problems, notably higher than those without long commutes.
  • Weight Gain: A study from the University of California found that the relationship between obesity and vehicle miles traveled had the strongest correlation than any other lifestyle factor.

Your Mental Health

  •  Anxiety Increases: A study of 4,297 Texans found that people with commutes of 10 miles or more each way have a higher tendency to be depressed, anxious and experience social isolation.
  • Well Being Decreases: A study from K.’s Office of National Statistics finds that people who commute more than half an hour to work each way report not only higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes, but they also experience lower life satisfaction and happiness than people with no commutes at all.
  • Stress & Exhaustion Increases: A Swedish study from Lund University, surveyed more than 21,000 people ages 18 to 65 and found that the longer they commuted by car, subway or bus, the more health complaints they had. And these lengthy commutes were associated with greater degrees of exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep and days missed from work.

Ok, so you knew you didn’t like your commute, but we’ve just really rubbed it in, right?  Chances are, there are a few things you or your employer can do to improve or reduce your commute time (aside from maxing out your Kindle):

Flex Time:  This doesn’t have to be a scary term, and can just mean simply commuting on “off” hours.  A few alternate schedules that can be considered:

  • Off Hours – pushing start time just 30-60 minutes can reduce commutes by more than 20 minutes in some busy, urban areas.
  • Longer Days – by working longer days 4 days a week instead of 5, you can cut commutes home easily in half.
  • Remote Days – skip the commute all together and work from home one day a week, thus shortening your overall total weekly commute

For those of us in industries or jobs that aren’t customer-facing, these are relatively adjustments we can make for ourselves and our staff – to help improve health and career satisfaction.  So go ahead, tell your boss!

To read more about commuting and health, visit PsychCentral.