For most working people, commuting to the office is a fact of life. Whether you travel by car, bus, bike, or foot, the commute is likely an integral part of the daily routine. The average UK commute takes 58.4 minutes, and the typical UK worker will spend 400 days of their life commuting, according to a poll by Totaljobs.
For some, however, commuting is expensive, frustrating, and exhausting. In urban areas, commuters face congestion, crowds and significant travel costs. All of these combine to wear you down before you even start work – hardly conducive to an efficient, fulfilling day.
That’s before we even consider the impact commuting has on our environment – which we know in turn impacts our physical and mental health. A study by Transport for London attributed 40,000 early deaths each year to air pollution. Motor vehicle traffic, meanwhile, was at a record high in 2018 as passengers covered 328.1 billion miles by motor vehicle. Over 25% of these miles were for commuting or business purposes.
So what impact does the office commute have on our own health?
HOW THE OFFICE COMMUTE AFFECTS PHYSICAL HEALTH
Professor Jennifer Roberts, Dept. of Economics University of Sheffield, and Institute for Economic Analysis of Decision Making (InstEAD) said: “There is increasing evidence that [commuting] adversely affects our psychological and physical health – even after we account for the increased wages and larger home that commuting further may allow us to obtain.”
A recent study by Stockholm University and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare revealed the true impact of commuting long distances. The study found that individuals working more than 40 hours a week were particularly affected. Commuting more than a half-hour each way was associated with a 25% higher risk of having an inactive lifestyle and a 16% higher risk of sleep problems.
Even a commute of just 10 miles was associated with an increase in high blood pressure in a study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Likewise, a recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health found that, of 1,500 people surveyed in the UK, 41% said they did less physical activity as a result of their commute.
Part of this, researchers claimed, is due to exhaustion after the working day. But this exhaustion leads to other unhealthy behaviours.
For instance, 29% of respondents said they ate more fast food as a result of their commute. It’s a sad truth that, when pressed for time, people will reach for the most convenient food available. Often, this food is high in salt and fats. In time, these foods can have a major impact on health, which can also have a profound impact on your wellbeing.
THE IMPACT OF COMMUTING ON MENTAL HEALTH
We know how damaging the urban office commute can be to our physical health. But travelling long distances every day can have a profound effect on our mental health too.
In a recent Flexjobs study into the impact of commuting and attitudes, 77% of people said having a flexible job would allow them to be healthier (eat better, exercise more, etc.) and 86% said they’d be less stressed.
Another study looked at the mental health of more than 34,000 workers across UK industries and their commuting habits. The study, conducted by VitalityHealth, the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, found that of those with an office commute of more than half an hour each way per day:
- 37% were more likely to have financial worries
- 12% were more likely to report multiple aspects of work-related stress
- 46% were more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night
Active commuting can play a positive role in improving mental health. However, as we know, active commuting is only a healthy option when you’re able to breathe clean air. Instead, we need to look at a different form of commuting altogether. To truly limit the negative impacts of travelling to work every day, companies need to embrace telecommuting.