Health Insights

Is your commute to work making you unhealthy?

MBHI reveals a link between length of commute and overall health.

Written by Editor Medibank
MBHI reveals a link between length of commute and overall health.

Are you reading this on your daily commute to or from work? Chances are, you’re not alone. We often consider our daily commute to be a drag - but for more than 1 in 10 Aussies1 it’s a far greater undertaking, with a one-way journey exceeding 30 km, compared to the average of 16.76 km2.

Can a long commute impact your health?

Medibank Better Health Index data revealed a link between length of commute and overall health, with those travelling only 1-5 km to work having a better overall health score of 105.56, versus 100.77 for those with a commute of more than 50 km. In addition, those with a journey of 30 km or more were found to be more likely to suffer from various negative health outcomes, including stress, weight gain and back pain.

This trend has been similarly observed in external studies including The Regus Index which reported commutes over 45 minutes to be associated with poor sleep quality, exhaustion and lower general health.

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Cheng, Medibank Medical Director, says: “Our data is showing a link, however, it is important to bear in mind that multiple factors contribute to one’s health. For example, socio economic status could affect how far away from work you live, but also your lifestyle characteristics such as smoking, diet and availability of fresh food and nearby parks. Long commutes are also often tackled on public transport, which could lead to an increased risk of contracting viral infections such as the common cold due to the high volume and proximity of people.”

Why would a longer commute impact your health?

Whether on public transport or driving in a car, we know that long commutes are generally characterised by extended periods of sitting, which has been linked to numerous health concerns, from obesity to cardiovascular disease.

However, sitting might not be the sole issue here. Peak hour commutes can also trigger stress, due to unpredictability, traffic, overcrowding and delays, which can detrimentally impact someone’s mental state and readiness to positively tackle the work day.

What can you do to reduce negative health outcomes from your daily commute?

For those with a short enough commute to tackle it on foot, why not kill two birds with one stone and hit the pavement or ride a bike. For everyone else, your commute might not be doing your body any favours, but you can certainly use the time to better your mind. Set personal goals, or practice mindfulness with the help of a guided meditation app. Alternatively, just try to relax your mind by chilling out with a good book or podcast.

1 10.8% of Australians

2 According to the latest MBHI, covering the period October 2014 – September 2015

Written by Editor Medibank

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