Photo of motorway traffic
The daily commute can take its toll on our health [Image: Osvaldo Gago - Wikimedia Commons]

That daily commute is bad for your health

8 November, 2011

Natural Health News — A new study has shed some light on the toll that commuting takes on our health – but it also hints at why so many of us prefer to keep using the car, rather than more environmentally friendly public transport

Researchers from Lund University in Sweden, looked at 21,000 people, aged between 18 and 65, who worked more than 30 hours a week and commuted either by car, train or bus, or were active commuters who travelled by walking or cycling.

‘One way’ journey time was compared to the volunteer’s perceived general health, including sleep quality, exhaustion and everyday stress. The results, published in open access journal BMC Public Health, showed that commuting by car or public transport, compared to walking or cycling, is associated with negative effects on health.

Lead researcher, Erik Hansson from the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University explained: “Generally car and public transport users suffered more everyday stress, poorer sleep quality, exhaustion and, on a seven point scale, felt that they struggled with their health compared to the active commuters.

“The negative health of public transport users increased with journey time. However, the car drivers who commuted 30-60 minutes experienced worse health than those whose journey lasted more than one hour.”

Hansson continued: “One explanation for the discrepancy between car and public transport users might be that long-distance car commuting, within our geographical region, could provide more of an opportunity for relaxation.”

This is because longer rural commutes were less likely to involve traffic jams and were more likely to be through green rural areas. For these users the commute also provided recreation in some form – a good reason to stay wedded to the car.

Hansson also noted that drivers who commuted over a longer distance tended to be men, and high-income earners, who travelled in from rural areas, a group that generally consider themselves to be in good health.

The study was unique because a mobile workforce is believed to help improve a country’s economy but the effects of commuting on the health of commuters and on the costs to industry in terms of sick days are largely unknown.

From a commuter’s point of view, the advantages of daily travel, such as a better paid job or better housing conditions, need to be weighed against adverse health effects such as stress, loss of sleep, low vitality mental health.