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You are hereHome › Long Road Home: The Health Consequences of Commuting
Long Road Home: The Health Consequences of Commuting
Long Road Home: The Health Consequences of Commuting
On Sunday afternoons David Zucker leaves his family and home in Austin, Tex., to fly to Boca Raton, Fla., and begin his work week. He flies back to Austin on Friday night. Door-to-door, the commute takes Zucker about five hours one way—earning him a spot in the growing category of work travellers known as “super commuters.”
In April 2012 the Rudin Center of Transportation at New York University released a report showing the number of people traveling more than 90 miles or 90 minutes each way to work—super commuters—has increased a whopping 57 percent in New York City alone. And it’s not just New York. According to the report, nearly 9 percent of the workforce in Maricopa County surrounding Phoenix meets the super-commuting criteria. The report reveals that the number of super commuters has doubled and even tripled along super-commuting corridors such as Philadelphia and Houston.
Zucker, who is the chief marketing officer at Vitacost.com, didn’t want to put his family through the stress of moving after he received a great career opportunity. But it hasn’t been easy. “It’s difficult not having breakfast and dinner with my wife and 16-year-old twins,” Zucker says. “We are a close family, and being away that long can be difficult on all of us.”
Zucker is also an active Ironman triathlete, and it can be difficult to stick to his aggressive workout schedule because of his commute. “Flying is really hard on your body and can encourage poor health habits,” says Zucker, who makes a concerted effort to eat well and exercise. “I always pack natural bars and fruit. I rarely drink alcohol, and never when I’m flying.”
Planes, trains and automobiles
Zucker is right to be concerned about his health while commuting. In October 2011 the American Cancer Research Institute (ACRI) announced a link between prolonged sitting and an increased cancer risk. According to the ACRI, nearly 100,000 U.S. cancer cases are linked directly to prolonged sitting.
In June 2012 researchers from Washington University published their data in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showing the longer the commute, the bigger the increase in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, high blood pressure and lack of physical activity. Lead researcher Christine Hoehner, PhD, told Wellness Times that in addition to lack of physical activity, “people who have longer commutes may have less discretionary time to cook healthy meals or get enough sleep, which are also associated with negative health outcomes.” Hoehner says stress associated with commuting can also play a role in increased blood pressure.
Paul Douglas, division human resources director of Genuine Parts Company, commutes by automobile to the corporate office and by plane to other locations. He says he’ll take a plane over congested traffic with other stressed-out drivers any day. When Douglas works at the corporate office in Denver, it takes him more than an hour just to get home at night—even longer when there is heavy traffic, an accident or bad weather. When he flies, he travels to one of seven locations in the mountain region and is usually gone for three to four days. “Air travel helps me avoid the stress of driving,” Douglas notes. “I don’t have to get up as early, and I can work while I’m on the plane so I’m ready to go once I arrive at my destination.”
Mary Beth Macneish’s commute from Lindenhurst, Ill., to Chicago previously involved both driving and taking the train. Macneish, who is first vice president at a major financial service firm, would leave her home at 6 a.m., drive to the train station, take a 20-minute train ride, and then walk 10 minutes to her office—totaling four hours every day. When the weather was bad, Macneish said her commute was brutal. “Fortunately, I was often able to leave early when the bad weather hit, and my coworkers encouraged me to do so.”
Sympathetic managers and coworkers can help ease the health effects of long-distance commuting, says Hoehner. She encourages super commuters to ask about flex-time policies to help avoid rush hour, and to take walking breaks during the day whenever possible.
Macneish coped with her commute by reading, getting caught up on news events and then listening to relaxing music during the train ride home. She even made new friends on the train.
Alice Bender, RD, the nutrition communications manager with American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), says long-distance commuters need to get creative if they want to protect their health. She offers these tips:
- Use a mobile device to remind you to take a break to stand, stretch or take a little stroll.
- Travel with stretch bands so even if you only have a couple minutes, you can do some resistance exercises.
- Get a pedometer to keep track of your steps and find ways to work up to 10,000 steps daily.
- Air travelers should walk around the terminal while waiting for the plane rather than sitting, and they should also avoid using the moving sidewalks.
- Equip your office with furniture that allows you to stand during part of your day, and also try standing while talking on the telephone.
To commute or not to commute
Not everyone commutes by choice; some have no other option—maybe because they can’t sell their home, they don’t want to transfer children to a new school or there are no jobs available where they live.
If you are in considering becoming a super-commuter—either by choice or necessity—Zucker advises preparing yourself for the fact that it may not be easy. “It’s really hard emotionally to be away, regardless of the near- or long-term opportunity,” he says. “It’s important that you make sure you have the commitment and support of your family and put a plan in place to take care of yourself and your health.”
In addition to being the publisher of Wellness Times, Karolyn is also the publisher of the Natural Medicine Journal, an innovative e-journal for healthcare professionals. She has been writing and publishing wellness information since 1992. She is the author or co-author of hundreds of articles and several books including the two books that she has written with Dr. Lise Alschuler, The Definitive Guide to Cancer and Five to Thrive: Your Cutting-Edge Cancer Prevention Plan. Along with Dr. Alschuler, she is the co-host of the Five to Thrive Live! radio show on the Cancer Support Network, online at w4cs.com. She is also the author of The Healing Factor, a blog on PsychologyToday.com. For more information, visit www.karolyngazella.com.
July 5th, 2012