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4 Reasons Your Commute is Bad For Your Health

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For most working Americans, the daily commute is a fact of life. According to census studies, the average American has a commute time of at least 25 minutes, with many people traveling as long as an hour or more each day for work. While most of us view commuting as a necessary evil in sustaining our lifestyles, all that commute time can actually be doing more harm than we may realize. From difficulty concentrating to exposure to pollution, below are the top four ways that daily commute might be damaging your health (and what you can do about it).

4. Weight Gain

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A Texas study in 2012 showed that the distance of a daily commute correlated directly to a person’s chances of being overweight. Unsurprisingly, the people in the study who traveled the farthest were also the ones who clocked the least amount of exercise each week, likely due to a lack of time or motivation after their commutes. That doesn’t mean that if you have a long commute you should just throw in the towel and buy bigger pants, however. Taking public transportation when possible, for example, can help shed unwanted pounds and keep you healthy. If you absolutely must drive to work each day, make exercise a priority. Plan for lunchtime walks or regular breaks that allow you to get up and move around frequently throughout the day to offset all that sitting during work and your commute home.

3. Back and Neck Pain

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Sitting behind the wheel of a car for long periods of time each day can be a real pain in the neck – literally. In fact, at least one-third of people with a commute time of over 90 minutes each day complain of ongoing neck or back pain. By contrast, of people who travel ten minutes or less each day, only one in four complain of neck or back pain symptoms. If you have a long commute, invest in a lumbar support device for the driver’s seat and make a conscious effort to sit upright, rather than slouching. If you practice good posture long enough while driving, that habit will eventually become automatic, and may even cross over into improved posture at your desk when you’re at work.

2. Added Stress

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Long commutes have been linked to increased anxiety levels and higher blood pressure, and if you’ve ever spent any time on the road during rush hour, you’re probably not all that surprised by that fact. Researchers believe the increase in anxiety and blood pressure is directly tied to elevated stress levels, and the longer the commute, the higher those stress levels can go. One way to combat this is for more employers to jump on board with staggered start times, so commuters hit the roads at different times of the day and traffic is a little less nightmarish. Aside from that, however, simply putting on a soothing playlist or practicing deep breathing while commuting can lower stress levels significantly.

1. Increased Exposure to Pollution

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To be fair, even walking or bicycling to work will increase your exposure to pollution, but experts agree that the benefits of physical exercise when biking or walking far outweigh the risk of pollution exposure (by up to nine times, actually). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of driving, but there are ways you can decrease your exposure to pollution if you have to be behind the wheel every day. Simple things like rolling up your windows, using the recycled-air setting in your car and traveling under 20 mph whenever possible can all reduce your exposure.

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