According to new research, the traffic you hit to and from work each day may have more negative side effects than a headache. Is your commute slowly killing you?
Driving ourselves to death
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, compiled data on the daily driving habits and health profiles of 4,297 residents from Dallas and Austin, Texas. The results are alarming.
For instance, the prevalence of obesity among people who drove 16 miles or more to work each day was 9 percent higher than those who had a shorter commute.
Of the roughly one-third of the study's participants who logged 16 miles or more commuting to work, 52 percent-more than half-had elevated blood pressure levels, compared to only 45 percent among the remaining two-thirds.
While the study does not suggest a definite cause for the connection, experts believe it comes down to stress. Longer commutes increase a person's likelihood of hitting traffic, one of the most common stressors among U.S. adults. The unpredictability of traffic can trigger stress hormones that have been known to elevate blood pressure levels and produce excess fat.
Spending longer amounts of time driving may also be leading to unhealthy habits. Extended commutes can cut in on time that might otherwise be spent exercising.
Having less time to prepare for work in the morning can also cause commuters to reach for quick breakfast fixes such as donuts, muffins or fast food instead of healthier choices that are more time-consuming to prepare and can't be eaten in the car. People who have higher levels of chronic stress are also more likely to smoke and consume alcohol.
De-stress your commute
Unless you work from home, commuting to work is inevitable. But that doesn't mean it has to be stressful. If the constant struggle of traffic is stressing you out, here are a few ideas that may help:
• Set the mood with music. What kind of music calms you down? Pick a station that lightens your mood, or better yet, avoid the commercial breaks and subscribe to music app.
• Beat the rush. If possible, adjust your work schedule so your morning and evening commutes no longer coincide with everyone else's.
• Carpool. Being at the wheel is a lot more stressful than sitting in the passenger seat. Find a few coworkers and share the driving burden-it'll save you some gas money, too.
• Don't get distracted. Multitasking not only causes more stress-it's downright dangerous when you're driving. For a safe, stress-free distraction, listen to your favorite podcast, and leave your cell phone in the back seat.
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