The daily commute to and from work can be incredibly tiring and frustrating, not to mention time-consuming. But could it also be harming your health? Well, the research from numerous scientists and health experts from around the world certainly suggests so. From the hours of inactivity to the passive inhalation of vehicle exhaust fumes, your daily commute could be the most damaging aspect of your health.
Millions of us commute to and from work every day. It can be a stressful experience with the average total commute being 56 minutes nationwide. However, in London we spend 1.5 hours commuting to and from work everyday with this increasing as we work and live even further apart.
Here’s how commuting habits can harm your health:
Diet – If you’re out of the house early ready for your lengthy commute to work, and back late, it’s likely you are cutting time from somewhere. Often, it’s your diet that suffers. Evidence has shown that many people use their daily commute as a time to consume snacks, from unhealthy coffees and bacon sandwiches in the morning to chocolate, crisps and soft drinks laden with sugar in the evenings.
Mental health – An often under-estimate effect of a daily commute the damage it can do to someone’s mental health. Long term tiredness can make you feel stressed and irritable and the stresses of the journey can also have a toil on your mental health.
Exhaust fumes – There is evidence to suggest that you will breathe in more pollution sitting in a car during heavy traffic than you would if you are outside. Dirty exhaust fumes get sucked into the car through the air filters and get trapped in the car. The Royal College of Physicians state that pollution is responsible for 40,000 early deaths per year In the UK.
Wasted time – Finally, with so much time spent travelling to and from the workplace, it’s often exercising that is cut-back to allow time for the daily routine. Research has shown that those performing a daily commute to their workplace are likely to have a less active lifestyle away from the office.
We now know that our commute can be incredibly unhealthy for our body and mind, but what can we do about it?
Cycle or walk to work – This may not be an option for everyone, but if possible, why not explore the option of walking or cycling to work, certainly during the warmer months of the year. Many employers now offer a cycle to work scheme which can help cover some of the cost of buying a bicycle, for example, while many modern office blocks also have shower and changing facilities for staff that need them. So, if you’re within a reasonable distance of your workplace, leave the car at home and get your day off to a healthy start.
Even if you’re a little unfit, or based too far from the office to cycle or walk, see if you can get off the bus a few stops earlier or park a little further away from the office so you can start building in some exercise to your daily routine.
Work flexible – An increasing number of employers are now offering staff flexible working. At the very least, this should allow you to vary the hours you work a little which can reduce your commuting time (travelling outside of peak times) and vitally, giving you more time in the evenings or morning to be more active. You could fit in a run, go for a swim or join a gym. It may even be that you can work from home for one or two days of the week, giving you less time commuting and more time to explore getting out and doing some extra activity.
Speak to employers – Here in the UK, the past decade has seen companies begin to implement health at work policies. In addition to cycle to work schemes, fruit in the office and shower facilities, they may have benefits in the form of reduced gym memberships or similar. At the very least, ask your employer what they may be able to do to help counter your unhealthy commute.
Improve your diet – For some people, there will be no alternative options when it comes to commuting, so it’s a case of doing what you can. If you drive, make sure you have no unhealthy snacks available to you. Try and get up a few minutes earlier and grab a proper breakfast, or if you must snack, fill your car with healthier options such as fruit, nuts and seeds.
You can also try these simple measures when you get to work to try and counteract the detrimental effects of the commute:
Always take the stairs – If you work a couple of floors up in a building, try cutting down on using the elevator and take the stairs. Even if you’re located on the 30th floor, start by getting out on the 28th and walking up two levels by stairs. These small changes are a good start, and you can increase the floors you cover by stairs as and when you get fitter.
Don’t ride the escalators, walk them – If you’re getting the train to work and use escalators daily, then try walking up and down them rather than simply riding them.
Go speak to someone – rather than calling a colleague on the telephone, get in to the habit of going to speak to them at their desk. This tiny change can not only help your fitness and health, it could also help working relationships and communication!
With our commutes getting increasingly longer, it’s important to be aware of the potential adverse effects that our health can suffer and how to try and mitigate some of these ill-effects.