The Negative Health Consequences of Commuting by Car
By Brian Acton
If you spend a long time driving to and from work, you know that a daily commute by car can be irritating and stressful. But the negative impacts of commuting by car go beyond minute-to-minute frustrations. Spending too much time in the car every day can actually lead to negative health outcomes.
Here are some of the potential negative health consequences of commuting by car.
- Increased Sedentary Time
Too much time spent sitting - more than six hours per day - can lead to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Because of this, a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a number of health problems
, including cardiovascular issues, heart disease, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.
If you spend an hour or more commuting in your car, you’re adding large periods of inactivity to your day and increasing your risk of developing these conditions.
- Rising Blood Pressure
The stress of sitting in traffic can cause your blood pressure to temporarily spike, which is a normal reaction. But a stressful commute day in and day out can cause your blood pressure to rise for the long term. You could end up with chronic hypertension, a state of ongoing high blood pressure.
- Excess Weight or Obesity
A 2012 study
published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
links long automobile commutes to increased weight. This is probably due to a combination of factors: more time spent sitting, less time spent exercising, and stress eating. The study found that people who commute more than 15 miles had a higher likelihood of obesity.
- Bad Posture and Neck/Back Pain
People tend to practice bad posture in cars; they hunch toward the steering wheel or lean back into their seat. Over time, the hours you spend in these positions can lead to long-term bad posture and chronic neck or back pain.
- Elevated Stress Levels
When compared to other modes of transportation such as trains, walking, or bicycling, driving has been found to be more stressful. It makes sense, as you’re in a constant mode of alertness and dealing with frustrations such as traffic congestion. Over time, a stressful driving commute can contribute to greater levels of overall stress. Too much stress can lead to physical problems like high blood pressure and mental problems like depression.
- Exposure to Pollution
The time spent in your car may expose you to harmful air pollution, such as emissions from other cars. A 2007 study of Los Angeles drivers found that as much as 45% of their exposure to air pollution occurred while they were in their vehicles.
Fighting the Negative Health Outcomes of Commuting by Car
Ideally, you could substitute your driving commute with a healthier mode of transportation, like bicycling or taking the subway. Alternatively, you could make a major life change and get a job closer to home or move closer to work.
Obviously, these aren’t realistic options for everyone. If you must drive to work, you can find other ways to counteract the mental and physical tolls of your daily commute. That may include engaging your mind with podcasts or audiobooks, finding time to sneak exercise into your daily routine
, practicing good posture in your car, and reducing your time spent sitting elsewhere.