Everyday Health

5 Ways Your Commute Affects Your Health

Originally published July 29, 2019

Last updated April 29, 2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Woman in traffic

Your morning drive might not be healthful, but you can take steps to counteract its effects.

Even if you wake up feeling refreshed and optimistic, you may not feel the same way once you reach your office. Research has linked long commutes to a host of negative health impacts, from increased stress and poorer cardiovascular health to greater pollution exposure. Here, learn how your commute can negatively impact your health, and the simple measures you can take to offset the detrimental effects.

1. You hardly exercise any more.

If your round-trip drive is greater than an hour, you might not have much time left for exercise. That can have serious implications, as a greater commuting distance is associated with being less physically active and less physically fit.

“One recent study found that individuals with a 30-mile round-trip commute had an increased tendency to be obese, with an unhealthy waist measurement,” says Helga Van Herle, MD, MS, a cardiologist at Keck Medicine of USC and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Increased waist measurement in both men and women can be associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes mellitus, heart disease and stroke. In this study, even a round-trip commute of 20 miles was associated with higher blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

Since many of us will continue to have long commutes, Van Herle suggests that we try to control other aspects of our lives that affect our risk of developing heart disease. “For example, follow a heart-healthy diet, which includes increasing your fresh fruit and vegetable intake and lowering your sodium, trans fat and saturated fat intake. Also make it a priority to get in 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity each week,” she says.

2. You may not feel like socializing.

Another recent study found that those with a commute of more than 90 minutes are far less likely to make trips for social purposes, such as to visit friends and relatives, play sports or go out to a movie. This, in turn, can lead to loneliness and depression.

If you do have a long commute, being aware of this correlation can help. Budget time to meet friends, sign up for a fitness class on your route or go to lunch with coworkers.

3. Shut-eye doesn’t come as easily.

Evidence suggests that people with longer commutes tend to sleep less, too. Lack of sleep can lead to a Pandora’s box of health problems, including diabetes and obesity.

It’s important to prioritize sleep. Practice good sleep habits by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding your electronic devices before bed and keeping your bedroom cool and dark.

4. You’re exposed to more pollutants.

That daily commute is a perfect vehicle for air pollution. Keep your car windows up and the fan on the recirculate setting to limit your exposure and help you breathe better.

5. You get stressed out.

Sitting in traffic every day will get to even the most seasoned driver, especially if you’re on a time clock. Car commuters experience higher stress levels and episodic moodiness more often than those using public transportation, in part due to the unpredictability of traffic.

“It’s important not to discount the psychosocial effects long commutes can have,” says Van Herle. “Increased feelings of stress, anxiety and depression can impact overall health. Try to find outlets for stress, and get treatment for depression, if it’s clinically indicated.”

By carving out time for exercise and relaxation at the end of the day, you may be able to offset your commute’s effect on your stress levels. “And if you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, be sure to work with your doctor to get optimal control of these conditions,” Van Herle adds.


Deanna Pai
Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor.