There's no way around it: Your commute is a nightmare. Whether you're packed like a sardine in a subway car or stuck in heinous traffic on the highway, there's little doubt you've complained about the way you get to the office.
Full-time American employees spend an average of 26 minutes commuting to work every day, according to an American Community Survey, and more than three-quarters of workers drive alone as their main means of commuting. Despite the definite upside of personal space, car commuters have it the worst -- at least when it comes to their health.
According to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2015, people who take the bus or train to work tend to have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity when compared to those who drive.
A Japanese study compared bus and train commuters, walkers and bikers, and those who drive, adjusting for factors like age, gender and smoking status. Compared to drivers, public transportation users were 44 percent less likely to be overweight, 27 percent less likely to have high blood pressure and 34 percent less likely to have diabetes. Researchers looked at annual health examination data from 5,908 adult study participants with an average age between 49 and 54 years old. The participants revealed information about their physical activity and the methods by which they get to work. Most of the drivers were men, while more women than men used public transportation or walked or biked to get to work.
The study found that bus or train commuters also had lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity than the walkers or bikers. Researchers said this could be because train or bus commuters may have to walk even further than those who regularly walk or bike.
"If it takes longer than 20 minutes one-way to commute by walking or cycling, many people seem to take public transportation or a car in urban areas of Japan,” lead study author Dr. Hisako Tsuji, director of Osaka's Moriguchi City Health Examination Center, said in a statement.
"People should consider taking public transportation instead of a car, as a part of daily, regular exercise," Tsuji continued. "It may be useful for healthcare providers to ask patients about how they commute."
It's important to note that all of the participants in this study were Japanese -- a group that is less likely to be overweight than Americans.
"Physical activity may be more effective at reducing diabetes among this population than it is among a Western population," said Tsuji.
Another caveat is that the findings of taking public transportation and having good health were merely correlations; the researchers aren't able to figure out whether taking public transportation improved participants’ health, or whether public-transportation users already were healthier than the other participants.
Still, the findings are consistent with those of a previous study published in the British Medical Journal in 2014. It found that people who drive to work are more overweight and less healthy compared to those who get to work by any other means. On average, women who commuted to work in any way other than a private car weighed about five pounds less than women who drove. Men weighed almost seven pounds less than those who drove to work.
Previous research has also found that a long commute is associated with high stress levels, weight gain, back and neck pain, diminished mental health and shorter average lifespan among female commuters.
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