Long commutes may be hazardous to health

May 8, 2012

As populations move even further away from urban centers, more people spend longer hours behind the wheel on their way to and from work. While sedentary behavior is known to have adverse effects on cardiovascular and metabolic health, the impact of long commutes by automobile are less understood. A new study has found that greater commuting distances are associated with decreased cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), increased weight, and other indicators of metabolic risk. The results are published in the June issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This study yields new information about biological outcomes and commuting distance, an understudied contributor to that is prevalent among employed adults," explains lead investigator Christine M. Hoehner, PhD, MSPH, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "It provides important evidence about potential mediators in the relationship between time spent driving and ."

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 with ArcGIS9 software and measured the shortest distance from home to work along the road network. CRF, (BMI), and metabolic risk variables including waist circumference, fasting , fasting , high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure, were measured. Self-reported participation in moderate to over the previous three months was also assessed.

The study found that people who drove longer distances to work reported less frequent participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity and decreased CRF, and had greater BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure. The association remained when physical activity and CRF were adjusted for, although to a lesser degree for BMI and waist circumference. Those 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.

Dr. Hoehner explains that longer commutes may replace participation in physical activity, given the association between commute time and physical activity and CRF, and the lesser association with adiposity after adjustment for physical activity. "At the same time, both BMI and were associated with commuting distance even after adjustment of physical activity and CRF, suggesting that a longer commuting distance may lead to a reduction in overall energy expenditure," she notes.

Association of commuting distance with the other metabolic risk indicators was largely weak or insignificant, with the exception of blood pressure. Multiple mechanisms could be contributing to this relationship. "The Dallas-Fort Worth region is ranked among the top five most congested metropolitan areas, and those with longer commutes may be more likely to be exposed to heavy traffic resulting in higher stress levels and more time sitting," says Dr. Hoehner.

Commuting by automobile represents only one of many forms of sedentary behavior, and this study did not examine other important contributors such as occupational sitting and TV viewing. Dr. Hoehner notes that future studies are needed to assess sedentary time across multiple behaviors to identify the independent effects of commuting on health.

Explore further: Spending more time physically active associated with better cardiometabolic measures among children

More information: “Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” by C.M. Hoehner, C.E. Barlow, P. Allen, M. Schootman (DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.02.020). It appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Issue 6 (June 2012)

Related Stories

Spending more time physically active associated with better cardiometabolic measures among children

February 14, 2012
In a study that included data for more than 20,000 children and adolescents, higher amounts of time with moderate to vigorous physical activity were associated with better cardiometabolic risk factors (such as measures of ...

Vegetarians may be at lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke

April 13, 2011
Vegetarians experience a 36 percent lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome than non-vegetarians, suggests new research from Loma Linda University published in the journal Diabetes Care. Because metabolic syndrome can be a ...

Recommended for you

Motorcycle crashes cause five times as many deaths as car accidents, six times the health costs

November 20, 2017
Motorcycle accidents are costly in terms of lives and health care costs. Compared with car accidents, motorcycle accidents cause 3 times the injuries, 6 times the medical costs and 5 times the deaths, found new research in ...

New shoe makes running 4 percent easier, 2-hour marathon possible, study shows

November 17, 2017
Eleven days after Boulder-born Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon in new state-of-the-art racing flats known as "4%s," University of Colorado Boulder researchers have published the study that inspired the shoes' ...

Vaping while pregnant could cause craniofacial birth defects, study shows

November 16, 2017
Using e-cigarettes during pregnancy could cause birth defects of the oral cavity and face, according to a recent Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Study: For older women, every movement matters

November 16, 2017
Folding your laundry or doing the dishes might not be the most enjoyable parts of your day. But simple activities like these may help prolong your life, according to the findings of a new study in older women led by the University ...

When vegetables are closer in price to chips, people eat healthier, study finds

November 16, 2017
When healthier food, like vegetables and dairy products, is pricier compared to unhealthy items, like salty snacks and sugary sweets, Americans are significantly less likely to have a high-quality diet, a new Drexel University ...

Children's exposure to secondhand smoke may be vastly underestimated by parents

November 15, 2017
Four out of 10 children in the US are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the American Heart Association. A new Tel Aviv University study suggests that parents who smoke mistakenly rely on their own physical senses ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.