Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Your Daily Commute Could Be Making You Fat
City life isn’t for everyone, but for many, that’s where the work is. In Dallas, Texas, where I live, it’s not unusual for folks to drive 50 miles or more each morning from their quiet homes out in the country to the frenzied bustle of downtown Dallas. For some, this commute may take 90 minutes or more each way. That’s three full hours of sitting in a car doing little more than watching the road go by.
Although many commuters choose to live far from work in order to provide a better quality of life for their families, the travel time can have seriously harmful consequences for health and wellbeing. Not only do they expose themselves to harmful pollution as they trek through miles of freeway, they also deprive themselves of valuable time that could be spent exercising, interacting with family and friends, preparing healthy meals, and getting adequate sleep. All of these factors can impact heart health.
Dr. Christine Hoehner, a health behaviorist from St Louis’ Washington University, and her colleagues studied 4297 Texans in order to evaluate the connections between health and commuting. Their report, published in this month’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine, tracked measurements such as blood pressure, weight, and total physical activity.
Not surprisingly, those who commuted 20 miles or more were about 50 percent more likely to be obese than those whose commutes were under 10 miles. They were more apt to have high blood pressure, and engaged in substantially less physical exercise.
Long drive times can lead to unhealthy choices such as fast food for meals and snacks, and television for entertainment. While the commute may not be negotiable, it’s important to recognize the triggers that can sabotage good health. Packing a lunch and snacks is a great way to ensure that healthy food is readily available so you don’t rely on restaurants and vending machines. And doing so will give you more time to enjoy a quick walk on your lunch break. If there is a gym nearby, consider joining up. If you can get in a workout at the end of the day, you may hit the traffic just as rush hour is ending, cutting valuable time off of your commute.