Commuting farther raises blood pressure, boosts obesity, study says
Those long commutes so typical of Southern California may be doing more than boring you and raising your fatigue level: They also raise your blood pressure and make you fatter, researchers reported Tuesday. For higher blood pressure, the effects kick in at about 10 miles, while for obesity they show up at about 15. Those who traveled the farthest to work every day were also those who were least likely to get adequate exercise. They probably also were more likely to eat fast food and to snack in the car, and were more highly stressed.
More people every day are commuting, and often for longer distances and times. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of Americans driving to work rose from 41.4 million to 112.7 million. From 1983 to 2001, the average commuting distance and time increased from 8.9 miles and 17.6 minutes to 12.1 miles and 22.5 minutes. According to data from the U.S. Census in 2010, about 28.5 million Americans travel 30 minutes or more to work. In SoCal, those numbers may be even higher, with large numbers of L.A. workers choosing to live in outlying counties.
Health behaviorist Christine Hoehner of Washington University in St. Louis and her colleagues studied 4,297 commuters in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin metropolitan areas who had received a comprehensive medical examination between 2000 and 2007, comparing various aspects of their medical condition to distance commuted. The team reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that 44.9% of those with short commutes had elevated blood pressure, compared with 49% of those who commuted at least 10 miles and 52% of those who traveled more than 15 miles each way. Some 18.2% of those with short commutes were obese, compared with 25.2% of those who commuted more than 15 miles. Three-quarters of those with short commutes met physical activity recommendations, compared with 66.5% of those who commuted more than 20 miles. All of those changes contribute to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
There is no single solution to the problem, the researchers said. Among things that might help: walking a few flights of stairs at work every day; eating healthier; reducing stress levels in traffic by listening to audio books and other pleasant activities; and increasing physical activity when at home.