How Your Work Commute Is Slowly Sucking the Life out of You

March 27th 2016

Taylor Bell

Whether you live in a heavily populated city like Los Angeles or in a small town in Montana, your long commute to work can be a real pain in the ass. Americans spend an average of 25 minutes commuting to work, with New Yorkers having the longest work commute in the country (an average of nearly 40 minutes).

Besides creating a huge inconvenience and wasting your time, your long commute may be hurting your health. Whether you endure a slow crawl behind the wheel or an hour or two crowded onto public transportation, your commute can take a toll on your mind and body. Here are some of the effects.

1. Weight gain

Long commutes affect everyone, but if you make the trip to work by car, you have it the roughest. You're likely to gain more weight driving to work than those who don't, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine cited by the Daily Mail. The study surveyed 822 adults and found that, despite weekly exercise, daily car commuters gained on average three more pounds over the course of the four-year study than did non-car commuters

"Commuting is a truly important predictor of obesity," researcher Lawrence Frank told Reuters Health.

"People who have longer commutes tend to purchase a lot of their food and run a lot of errands on their way to and from work," Frank said. The tendency to grab food on the go may be a factor in the weight gain.

Then there's the effect of sitting for a long period of time, which can throw your metabolism for a real loop. "Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked," The New York Times reported

Sitting for a long time also does a number on your posture and physical health. Those who spend more time behind the wheel are more likely to complain of "pains and aches in their backs and necks," TIME magazine reported.

2. Less satisfied with life

People with commute times between 61 and 90 minutes experienced low levels of life satisfaction and happiness, according to a British study cited by the Guardian. Riding a bus for 30 minutes or longer was linked to the lowest level of happiness and life satisfaction. (This might also have something to do with the fact that using public transportation can be an indicator of low socioeconomic status, the study added).

"Given the loss of personal well-being generally associated with commuting, the results suggest that other factors such as higher income or better housing may not fully compensate the individual commuter for the negative effects associated with traveling to work, and that people may be making sub-optimal choices," the study said.

People who commute actively — walkers, cyclists, bus and train riders — have an improved sense of well-being, according to Psychology Today. The physical activity of walking or biking to work has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks by 11 percent.

If you take the bus, you can open a book, start a conversation, or respond to those work emails. Driving, on the other hand, requires full concentration and can lead to "boredom, stress, and social isolation."

Long commutes also steal time away from loved ones. A one-hour increase in commute time led men to lose 21.8 minutes with a spouse and 18.6 minutes with their children, a 2012 study found.

3. Your blood pressure rises over time

People who commuted 20 miles in each direction had an increased risk of high blood pressure, according to a study that looked at 4,300 people in Texas, TIME magazine reported. The increase was not attributable to a lack of physical activity among those surveyed, even if they didn't work out regularly, the study added.