How your commute can affect your health

Driving can give you more control over your journey than public transport. However, it also comes with unpredictability like traffic jams, accidents, bad weather, and road rage, along with the added cost of owning, maintaining, repairing, and buying gas for a car.

“Our land use policies have created auto dependency due to single-use zoning and suburban sprawl, which essentially separates where people live from wherever they would like to go,” said James Sallis, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health. “So we’ve created a system that mandates driving and removes options for walking and cycling, while public transport options are very limited – and the difference in health impact between cars and active transport is huge.”

A 2014 study of more than 3,400 people in Canada found that more time spent commuting in a car was associated with lower life satisfaction and increased feelings of pressure. temporal.

Richard Schmitz can understand. The 47-year-old used to drive from Northern Virginia to Washington, D.C., every day for work, an unpredictable commute that ranged from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on weather, crashes and accidents. other traffic events, he told BuzzFeed News. .

“The impact on time was huge,” he said, so much so that he changed jobs and now only spends 15 minutes in the car and has the option of taking multiple routes if the one is too busy.

“I’m definitely not wondering if I’m going to be on time or not for work or if I’m going to face any navigational challenges,” Schmitz said. “Getting that time back has been the biggest benefit for me.”

He is not wrong to want to avoid this DC trip. Traffic congestion is making a comeback there and in other cities, according to new data sent to BuzzFeed News from the Waze navigation app. The nation’s capital has seen the largest increase in traffic in the past eight months, up 12.5% ​​in March 2022 from last July. Houston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are the top finalists.

How traveling can harm your health

Of course, none of this is good news, because sitting in traffic can expose you to dangerous levels of air pollution that contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, according to the CDC. A 2007 study found that 33% to 45% of Los Angeles residents’ total exposure to ultrafine particles occurs during car travel.

These tiny particles can aggravate asthma and lung disease, and air pollution generated by cars can also contain carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and ozone.

A study of more than 4,000 people in Texas found that those who traveled longer distances to work had a higher likelihood of obesity and high blood pressure, and were less likely to reach recommended amounts of daily physical activity.

It makes sense, Sallis told BuzzFeed News, because sitting for long periods during commutes promotes a sedentary lifestyle that can contribute to conditions like type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

A 2018 Gallup poll found that workers who spend an hour or more commuting each day are more than three times more likely to rate their commutes as “very or somewhat” stressful. Another 2015 survey found that commuters in major European cities said their business trips were more stressful than their actual job.

Research also shows that your social life can suffer the longer your commute. People who spent more than 20 minutes commuting to work were more likely to have less time for “socially oriented trips”, such as visiting friends and family, exercising or playing sports, weddings and religious celebrations.

This, of course, can also harm relationships. A 2011 survey of people in Sweden found that long-distance commuters are at a 40% higher risk of separating from their partner.

Not to mention that the time spent in transport can reduce the time you could spend sleeping.

A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that every additional hour of commute time was equivalent to 15 minutes of lost sleep, which over time can contribute to anxiety, brain fog and potentially at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart problems. sickness.

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