Longer commute times take a toll on mental, physical health

Laura Fajardo commutes from Alexandria, Va., to Lanham, Md. She says driving with her dog, Waldi, helps keep her relaxed. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — The D.C. area is home to some of the longest commute times in the country, and new research is showing more time commuting back-and-forth to work can have serious and lasting impacts on your mental and physical health.

On average, people spend about 51 minutes a day commuting to and from work, according to USA TODAY. D.C. area residents have an average travel time of 34.5 minutes, according to the Census Bureau.

All that time in the car or using public transportation can not only put you in a bad mood, but also affect your physical health, according to TIME.

The magazine highlighted some of the impacts of a long commute:

  • A rise in blood sugar. A more than 10-mile commute is associated with higher blood sugar, according to a report written by researchers from the University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Higher blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes.
  • Higher cholesterol. The University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas study found those with a 10-mile one-way commute were more likely to have higher cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
  • Depression. People with commutes of at least 10 miles each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation, according to the same study.
  • Increased anxiety. People who commute more than 30 minutes to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people who little or no commutes, according to a study from U.K.’s Office of National Statistics.
  • Lower levels of happiness. Commutes of any length can take a toll on your life satisfaction, according to the U.K. study. People who had to commute had lower levels of happiness than those with no commutes at all, according to the study.
  • Spike in blood pressure. Driving during rush hour can be stressful enough, but the it can affect your blood pressure, too. Even if your blood pressure is normally stable, driving stress and impeding work strains can cause an uptick in blood pressure, according to researchers from the University of Utah.
  • Long term blood pressure increase. A study of more than 4,000 participants in Texas found that the longer their commutes, the higher their blood pressure was. High blood pressure can cause heart disease and stroke.
  • Weight gain. More time in the car may mean less time in the gym. The same study out of Texas found participants with longer commutes had lower levels of fitness and physical activity, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Lack of sleep. Lower sleep quality is associated with longer commutes. The Regus Work-Life Balance Index for 2012 found that people who spend more than 45 minutes each way getting to work had lower sleep quality and more exhaustion than those who had shorter commutes.
  • Back aches. Spending large amounts of time slouched over in cars, trains or buses can cause back aches and posture problems.

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