by John Creamer

Driving yourself unhealthy

Travelling long distances could have a negative effect on your health

Travelling long distances could have a negative effect on your health
Driving yourself unhealthy

While sedentary behaviour is known to have adverse effects on cardiovascular and metabolic health, the impact of long commutes by automobile is less understood. A new study has found that greater commuting distances are associated with decreased cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), increased weight, and other indicators of metabolic risk. 

This study yields new information about biological outcomes and commuting distance, an understudied contributor to sedentary behaviour that is prevalent among employed adults. It provides important evidence about potential mediators in the relationship between time spent driving and cardiovascular mortality.

How the study was done

Researchers studied 4 297 residents who lived and worked in 11 different cities. Commuting distances were calculated and measured the shortest distance from home to work along the road network.

CRF, body mass index (BMI), and metabolic risk variables including waist circumference, fasting triglycerides, fasting plasma glucose, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure, were measured. Self-reported participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity over the previous three months was also assessed.

The study found that people who drove longer distances to work reported less frequent participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity and decreased CRF, and had greater BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure. The association remained when physical activity and CRF were adjusted for, although to a lesser degree for BMI and waist circumference.

Those who commuted more than 24 kilometres to work were less likely to meet recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity, and had a higher likelihood of obesity. Commuting distances greater than 10 miles were associated with high blood pressure. 

Long drives mean less physical activity time

Longer commutes may replace participation in physical activity, given the association between commute time and physical activity and CRF, and the lesser association with adiposity after adjustment for physical activity.

At the same time, both BMI and waist circumference were associated with commuting distance even after adjustment of physical activity and CRF, suggesting that a longer commuting distance may lead to a reduction in overall energy expenditure.

Association of commuting distance with the other metabolic risk indicators was largely weak or insignificant, with the exception of blood pressure. Multiple mechanisms could be contributing to this relationship. 

Commuting by automobile represents only one of many forms of sedentary behaviour, and this study did not examine other important contributors such as occupational sitting and television viewing. 

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