The Best Commute for Your Health

It doesn’t involve a speedy train or car ride.

| November 1st, 2011
The Best Commute for Your Health

Your work commute is: (A) a bike ride or brisk walk; (B) a traffic jam; or (C) a crammed bus or train.

If you chose B or C, this could mean trouble for your health. A new survey of over 20,000 Swedes, aged 18-65, linked public transportation and car commutes to greater stress and exhaustion, and poorer health and sleep quality, compared to active commuters who biked or walked. No wonder the “healthiest women in America” have walkable commutes, according to a USA Today report.

In the Swedish study, the longer the public transportation ride, the poorer the self-reported health. More traveling may mean less time for healthy behaviors like physical activity or social engagement (social contact that doesn’t involve being sandwiched between two people on the subway). And it’s no surprise that less beauty sleep might translate to more days under the weather. Sleep has a restorative function, and not getting enough of it can increase your risk of hypertension and diabetes.

QUIZ: What’s Your Sleep Quality?

There were some interesting differences to note about commute time.

When it came to car travel, workers who drove between 30 to 60 minutes reported worse health than those whose commute lasted more than one hour. Researchers speculate that the extra time in the car may lend itself to a more relaxing commute than a quick drive (think, more singing to your favorite soundtrack). Another possibility is that these drivers may be mostly high-income men who can afford to live in rural areas outside of cities—a group that tends to already benefit from greater health.

How to take the stress out of your travel.

Do you feel your blood pressure rise when you’re late and just missed your bus or train? Go to bed a bit earlier so you can give yourself more time in the morning. Or, if you time your commute right, leaving later may actually avoid the mad rush to work.

MORE: Fitting Fitness Into Your Work Day

A quick survey around the office and we picked up some tips. Our Senior Editor learned a trick to make her commute easier. “I figured out that leaving my apartment 15 minutes later still got me to work at the same time. Once I knew the best rush hour time to avoid, it helped reduce some of the stress of waiting for the train,” she says.

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