Last updated September 6, 2019 at 10:00 am
Forget the slog of the daily commute, there are healthier ways to travel to work.
Why this matters: Long commutes can damage your health, and they’re increasing in length. But choosing more active transport can reverse the effects.
How long is your daily commute to work? According to the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, workers living in a capital city, spend 66 minutes travelling to and from work each day. That’s an increase of 22 per cent since 2002.
What’s more, the number of people commuting two or more hours a day is on the rise, from 12% in 2002 to 18% in 2017.
There’s no doubt commuting, particularly by car or on public transport, can fray your nerves, and an increasing body of evidence shows it can have a negative impact on your health.
“Regularly battling peak hour traffic and travelling long distances to work leads to poorer mental health, stress and an increase in road rage incidents.”
Your daily commute can impact both physical and mental health
One of the most obvious – and potentially most serious – impacts of commuting to work is all that time sitting on your backside.
“If you’re spending up to two hours each day in a sedentary position while you commute to work, as well spending further time in sedentary positions at work – for example, if your job is desk bound – there is very little opportunity for active movement,” Nuttman says.
And, of course, there’s the stress, which research confirms increases with daily commute time, lack of predictability and control, and crowding during the journey.
Plus, devoting a lot of time to your daily commute to work means there’s less time for activities that are good for your health and wellbeing.
“Long commutes to and from home result in spending less time with children, spending less time socialising with friends and relatives, doing less voluntary or charity work and participating less often in sporting groups and community organisations.”
Car travel is the worst offender
Unsurprisingly, car travel is the least healthy way to travel to work even though it’s by far the most common form of transport, with almost two in three Aussie workers commuting by private vehicle.
One study found people who spent more time driving were more likely to report being overweight, have insufficient sleep and worse physical and mental health.
“Regularly battling peak hour traffic and travelling long distances to work leads to poorer mental health, stress and an increase in road rage incidents,” says Nuttman.
Healthier ways to travel to work
Wherever possible, ditch the car and choose an active method of transport to commute to work. Think walking, cycling or public transport – and if you can, stand rather than sit.
Experts that aiming for 10,000 steps each day is an effective goal for keeping active, and there’s evidence to suggest that people who catch the bus to work are likely to get more steps in their day than people who drive. Victorian research found public transport users walk for an average of 47 minutes each day, equating to about half of your daily step quota.
“Most commuters using active transport such as cycling, walking and public transport report greater health benefits,” Nuttman says.
“Regular physical activity increases life expectancy and reduces the risk of chronic illness or death, stress, depression and anxiety.”
And for those who have to travel by car, there’s always a good podcast or audio book to get you through the peak-hour-grind.
“Practice mindfulness and take into account that everyone else is in the same situation as you,” Nuttman says.