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Long commutes linked to worse health

May 8th, 2012
Staff Writer

Long commutes are not just boring and frustrating, they could be slowly eroding your health, researchers reported Tuesday.

The problem is that all that time sitting behind the wheel contributes to the dreaded “sedentary behavior” that contributes to weight gain and, ultimately, weight-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Researchers studied 4,297 residents who lived and worked in eleven counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth or Austin, Texas metropolitan areas. Commuting distances were calculated as well as the study participants’ body mass index, waist circumference, fasting triglycerides, fasting plasma glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. The participants also reported their physical activity over the previous three months.

The study found that people who drove longer distances to work reported less frequent participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity and lower cardio-respiratory fitness levels. They had greater body mass index, waist circumference and blood pressure compared to people with no or short commutes. The association held up even when researchers accounted for physical activity.

Researchers found that people who commuted more than 15 miles to work were less likely to meet recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity and had a higher likelihood of obesity. Commuting distances greater than 10 miles were associated with high blood pressure.

Commutes appear to replace participation in physical activity and reduce overall energy expenditure, said Christine M. Hoehner, the lead author of the study and a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Commuting is a former of sedentary behavior that people may not think about, she noted. More obvious forms of sedentary behavior include watch television or sitting at a desk all day as part of one’s occupation. It’s important for people to consider all of their sedentary time when thinking about how to become more active, she said.

The study is published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

If you feel you don’t have time for more exercise, try to sneak it into your day, a few minutes at a time, experts say. Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (like brisk walking) on most days of the week. It is not as hard as you may think, and you do not have to do the whole 30 minutes at one time. Get started by making these small changes in your daily routine. Here are some tips from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:

  • Get off the bus or subway one stop early and walk the rest of the way (be sure the area is safe).
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator (be sure the stairs are well lit).
  • You do not have to do your entire workout in one block of time.  Break it up—taking three 10-minute walks during your day may be easier than taking one 30-minute walk.
  • Walk and talk with a friend at lunch.
  • Put more energy into housework and yard work.
  • Make regular appointments for your workouts and keep them as you would a hair or nail appointment.
  • Be active while doing other things. For example, lift weights or march in place while watching TV. Try walking around your home while talking on a cordless telephone.