Uncovering the Truth of Commuting and Health

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

Life, commuting and healthPositive thought is the best way to start your day. But how many times do traffic jams and stop signs irk you in the morning while commuting to your workplace? Long commutes, especially when in a rush, can leave you strained even before you reach the workplace which can negatively impact your day’s productivity. Not to mention the exhaustion of traveling back home from work. Commuting and health are interrelated – stressful commute can impact your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing thus reducing your lifespan. Every moment you get vexed, you are inviting stress into your life. Now image what days and years of stressful commuting can do to your health? In fact, several scientific studies have linked commuting with poor health, stress, and fatigue.

According to survey reports, the average American’s commuting time to work is about 25.5 minutes each day. This makes it a total of about 51 minutes a day traveling to and from work which is 204 hours yearly commuting time. With long commuting periods, there is hardly any time left for exercise and other activities. According to surveys, Londoners face the longest commute time, an average of about 79 minutes commuting to the office which is greater than all the U.S cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

Studies on Commuting and Health

Researchers conducted studies on commuting and health to understand how the mode of commuting can affect your fitness. The studies suggest utilizing the commuting time differently and demonstrate how choosing the right commuting can bring a positive transformation to your wellbeing. Further, the studies also suggest that cycling to your workplace has considerable health benefits.

The study involved 263,540 participants from 22 places across the U.K whose transportation modes to office were noted. The commuting method was then classified into active mode (cycling, walking, and mixed) versus non-active mode (public transport or car). The results showed that people with active commute mode, particularly cycling, were healthier and less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

In another survey on commuters, it was revealed that more than half of the people experienced stress from their commute, over 44 percent people reported that they spent less time with family and over 41 percent reported of less physical activity. Further, over one-third of people reported snacking more, eating junk food and sleeping less. This demonstrates that there is a deep connection between mode of commuting and health.

How Commuting Can Affect Your Health

The stress of commuting and healthLong hours of everyday commuting to your workplace can be a highly stressful experience especially if you have chronic fatigue. As commuting and health are interlinked, it is not unusual to feel stressed and fatigued at the end of the day after a long commute from the workplace. However, if you frequently experience extreme fatigue along with symptoms of insomnia, difficulty in waking up, anxiety, low energy levels, stubborn weight gain and brain fog; then chances are likely that you may have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). Your body is equipped with NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response which is an intricate network of several organs and circuits that work in close coordination to deal with stress. When your body detects stressful situations, the NEM stress response system signals your adrenal glands for secreting the anti-stress hormone, cortisol. However, repeated stress overburdens your adrenals reducing the level of cortisol secretion. As a result, your body gradually starts losing its stress fighting ability thus leaving you fatigued.

Commuting is a hidden stressor which can further worsen your AFS symptoms. The stress of commuting can leave you feeling more fatigued. Inactive commuting can be detrimental to your health. Longer commute means long sitting hours which can hurt your health, increase your waistline, cause joint stiffness and back pain. Read on to know more about commuting and health and how you can offset the related damage.

Increase In Blood Sugar Level

Research suggests that more than ten miles of driving to and from work can increase the risk of high blood sugar leading to pre-diabetes and diabetes.

Blood Pressure Spikes

Do you often commute to the workplace in a rush especially when you have an important meeting? Research shows that commuting in a rush can cause a temporary spike in your blood pressure levels though you might not have blood pressure issues. During the research on commuting and health, participants were divided into two groups and were placed in a simulated driving scenario. The participants were informed that they were late for a meeting and would get financial incentives for reaching the destination quickly. One group commuted in high-density traffic while the other drove in a less congested traffic. The group commuting in high-density traffic reported higher levels of stress and blood pressure levels.

It is always worth it to start before the rush hour so you do not feel anxious. If you have AFS, then commuting in a rush can trigger stress and increase anxiety levels. Further, studies revealed that the farther the people lived from their workplace, the longer their commute time and therefore, the higher blood pressure they developed. Consistent high blood pressure is a major factor contributing to heart disease and stroke.

Risk of Depression

Research also suggests that ten miles of commute are enough to trigger anxiety, depression and social isolation.

Higher Cholesterol Levels

Studies also suggest that ten miles of one-way commute to work can raise the level of cholesterol in commuters which can further increase the chance of heart disease.

Increases Anxiety

People with a 30-minute commute to the workplace reported higher levels of anxiety and stress than those with shorter commute time. While it would be hard to reduce the commute time, listening to some soft music or reading your favorite book could help reduce commute-related stress.

Poor Cardiovascular Health

Longer commutes permit less time for physical activities affecting your cardiovascular fitness which in turn affects your heart health and maintaining a healthy weight.

Increases Chances of Back Ache

The physical pains of commuting and healthCommuters often complain of backaches due to long sitting periods causing negative consequences on your posture and back. Back pain, stiffness in neck and knees are some of the problems related to commuting and health. Make sure you sit in the right posture to counteract these issues. Consider practicing yoga poses that straighten up your posture.

Causes Insomnia and Sleep-Related Issues

Surveys found that people with a longer commute of 45 minutes each day experienced low quality sleep and fatigue when compared to people with shorter commutes. Since people with AFS largely suffer from insomnia and exhaustion, longer commutes can further worsen the problem.

Decline in Quality of Life

Longer commutes reduce the time for physical activity, social gathering, and personal bonding thus declining the quality of your life. According to surveys, people with any length of commute experienced less happiness and satisfaction in life when compared to people with no commute. Commuting through public transportation for 30 minutes was associated with the lowest level of happiness and life satisfaction whereas biking allowed you to enjoy the outdoor beauty making you more feel relaxed and satisfied.

If you are unable to deal with the stress of commuting then it would be ideal to consider shifting your residence near to your workplace or working from home instead.

Helping Ease your Commute

Here are some things you can do to make your commute easier and healthier for you.

Healthy options to avoid commuting and health issues

  • Start your commute earlier to avoid rush hour.
  • Bike or walk to work.
  • Playing soft music while commuting to work can help relaxation.
  • Practice breathing exercises while driving.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated during the entire trip.
  • Those who are sensitive to vibration should avoid bumpy rides.
  • Keep snacks handy in case of reactive hypoglycemia.
  • Avoid sitting near windows with strong winds.
  • Avoid direct sunlight which can dehydrate you.
  • Avoid heat as the body may not be tolerant.
  • Try to sit down rather than standing up.
  • Get some yoga in when you get home from work to unwind.


Many of us commute every day. Studies have related long commutes with a poor quality of life. When compared to people with no commute, those with longer commutes have reported an increase in the level of stress, anxiety, fatigue, fast food consumption as well as low quality of sleep, decrease in physical activity, and personal and social bonding. Research shows that commuting and health are interrelated. Non-active commuting can be detrimental to health. It can increase the risk of developing high blood sugar and blood pressure levels, depression, cardiovascular problems, back pain, obesity, stress, anxiety, and insomnia which can be damaging especially in AFS.

The more you work on making commuting health promotion, the better it is for your health.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Long commuting can be detrimental to your health leaving you feeling stressed and fatigued. Balancing between commuting and health can be tricky. Consider biking, listening to soft music or reading on your way to the workplace. Few minutes of breathing exercise, yoga and stretching can also help relieve stress and bad posture.

Commuting and health