Long commutes may be bad for health: study

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Long commutes to work, particularly more than 10 miles, may be hazardous to health and are associated with increased weight, bigger waistlines and poorer heart and lung fitness, according to a new study.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who studied nearly 4,300 commuters, found that people who traveled 10 miles to work were more likely to have high blood pressure and workers commuting 15 miles had a greater risk of being obese and not getting enough exercise.

“The main finding is that the study was the first to show that long commutes can take away from exercise and are associated with higher weight, lower fitness levels and higher blood pressure, and all of these are strong predictors of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers,” Christine Hoehner, the lead researcher of the study, said in an interview.

“It really looked specifically and with objective outcomes at how long commuting really affects health.”

U.S. census figures show that over the past four decades Americans are commuting longer distances, with an average commuting time of 20-25 minutes.

Hoehner, whose findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and her team calculated the shortest commuting distances by roads of workers in 11 counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth or Austin, Texas areas, where about 90 percent of people travel back and forth to work by car.

They also tracked their heart and lung health, body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of weight relative to height, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, or fat in blood, and blood sugar levels of the commuters, as well as their physical activity.

Fifty one percent of the people in the study traveled 10 miles or less to work each way, and 18 percent traveled more than 20 miles. The average commute was 12 miles.

The researchers found that long commutes were associated with less moderate or vigorous exercise, greater BMI and larger waists and higher blood pressure.

“It looks like the threshold was a commute distance of 10 miles for blood pressure,” said Hoehner, adding it started to change with that distance.

Obesity was associated with a commute of more than 15 miles. The researchers found no differences in the findings between men and women and different age groups.

Hoehner suggested the long commutes and more time spent behind the wheel reduce how time much people exercise.

“For folks that live a long way from work they need to find ways to build physical activity into their day,” she said. “Driving to work has become a part of American life. There is no reason why taking walks during work breaks can’t become a part of American life too.”

Reporting by Patricia Reaney