Human Resources News & Insights

3 hidden health risks of long commutes

Long commutes can be dangerous to your health.

People who drive 50 or more miles a day — and or an hour-plus — to and from work have a higher risk of health problems than those with shorter commutes, a recent study found. That means higher costs for your health plan.

1. Higher rates of obesity

Left to their own devices, people with long daily commutes tend to exercise less — often they have less free time and want to spend it with loved ones, not working out.

They are also more likely to fall into bad dietary habits — think drive-through breakfasts and coffee shop fare.

2. The ravages of stress

For many of these folks, the most stressful part of their day isn’t what happens at work — it’s hurrying to beat rush-hour traffic to get to work on time and pick up their kids from after-school activities.

Also, according to the study, the average rush hour commuter’s blood pressure and heart rate are higher than that of a fighter pilot heading into combat.

3. ‘Commuter’s amnesia’

People’s brains develop a coping mechanism for handling the stress — the scientific term for it is “commuter’s amnesia.”

Ever driven somewhere and, upon arrival, had no recollection of the drive? You’ve experienced it.

And when someone’s mind regularly goes into shut-down mode like that, its can affect things like workday productivity and safety. That’s especially true for those with poor sleeping habits.

Proven solutions

Far and away, companies with widely used wellness programs are the best equipped to minimize the toll long commutes have on employees’ health.

Telecommuting programs and flex-time are other proven ways to cut the risk.

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  • Joyce

    At one point in my career I was commuting 70 miles each way to work and back home. That meant at least 1 1/2 hours in morning rush, and often 2 or more hours in evening rush. After a 10 hour day at the office it left me no time for much more than a quick walk with the dog, dinner and bed. After 3 years of it I finally moved. I now commute 4 miles each way, have plenty of time for family, dogs etc. The best part, I NEVER have to sit in rush hour traffic. It was a difficult and financially stressful decision to leave living in an area I really loved to be closer to the city, and in a much less desirable neighborhood. However, the benefits to my well being are obvious. I have lost weight, I sleep better and I am much more productive at work. Oh, and I stopped giving the oil companies 30% of my salary!

  • Essie

    I only commute 64 miles a day RT and have little traffic to deal with on the way. But I have definitely experienced Commuters Amnesia. It is very creepy.

  • Blake Steels

    I commute 100km per day, it takes 1h with no traffic, and up to 3hrs with traffic or wx. I think the biggest impact on my life is loss of free time and extended periods of boredom.

    One coping mechanism I have used is I make the commute feel like a free time portion of my day. i.e have a nice coffee from Tim Hortons about half way throught the drive and listening a good morning show. I like 91.1 in Toronto. Listing to music or audio books at least makes me feel like I am wasting my time less.

    I experience commuters amnesia regularly. Especially in stop and go.

  • – I have been commuting (77) miles each direction for almost (7) years, now. I have recently found a car-pooler who I pay that wants to drive (50) miles of the commute. I now have almost (25) years with General Electric Company- the other four Divisions were sold. The hardest part is no-one around me knows how difficult it has been. Yes, I have put on (15-20) lbs., but I know I don’t have a ton of years til retirement and can then lose weight. I would appreciate any additional comments. The scenery of Vermonts Green Mountains is a nice touch, tho.