Long commutes may be bad for health: Study

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Long commutes by car is linked to high blood pressure, big waistlines and other health problems, a new study has found.

University of California San Diego researchers wanted to examine the impact automobile commutes have on cardiovascular and metabolic health, because although sedentary behaviour has known negative effects on health, the specific impact of commuting by car was not known.

Researchers studied nearly 4,300 drivers who lived and worked in 11 counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas areas. They looked at commute distances, cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), body mass index (BMI) and other factors including waist circumference, HDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Participants were asked to report their moderate to vigorous physical activity over the previous three-month period.

The study found that people who drove longer distances to work reported less frequent exercise and had decreased CRF, greater BMI, larger waistlines and higher blood pressure. Those who commuted more than 24 km were less likely to meet exercise recommendations and had a higher likelihood of obesity. And commuting distances of more than 16 km were associated with high blood pressure.

"This study yields new information about biological outcomes and commuting distance, an understudied contributor to sedentary behaviour that is prevalent among employed adults," Christine M. Hoehner, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., said in a release. "It provides important evidence about potential mediators in the relationship between time spent driving and cardiovascular mortality."

The study did not look at other sedentary behaviours, such as sitting at a desk at work and TV viewing. Hoehner said that further research is necessary to determine the independent impact of commuting on health.

The study is published in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.