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How a long commute could be affecting your health – and what you can do about it

If you had a choice between spending 240 hours trapped in a car driving to work, or spending that time doing something that you loved, what would you choose?

It’s a no-brainer, right? But the average Australian currently spends 240 hours every year travelling to and from work – that’s the equivalent of more than 30 full-time days of work.

Perhaps it’s time to look seriously at your work commute, or make it a major consideration during your job search.

How a long commute can be bad for you

Long commutes can be surprisingly bad for you, and in ways you might not expect.

First consider the impact on your relationships.

A recent study out of Sweden found that long distance commuters – that is people who travel 45 minutes or longer each way – are significantly more likely to end up divorced:

Findings indicate that long-distance commuters run a 40 per cent higher risk of separating than other people do, and it’s the first years of long-distance commuting that are the most trying for a relationship.

And it’s not just romantic relationships that suffer in the face of lengthy travel times.

US author, Robert Putnam, says commuting can make us lonely more generally:

Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.

Second, there’s the impact on your mental health.

A Gallup poll in the US found that in terms of mental health, long haul commuters are up to 12 percent more likely to experience worry, and ten percent less likely to feel well rested.

And third, there’s the physical impact.

The Gallup poll also found that of people who commute 61­–90 minutes each day, a whopping one third complained of neck and back pain, compared to less than a quarter of people who only spend ten minutes getting to work.

Long-haul commuters are also more likely to have high cholesterol and more likely to be overweight.

So, that’s the bad news about a long commute. But is there anything you can do to avoid it? Or at least limit the damage?

The answer is yes!

So what can you do instead?

1) Ask your boss to let you telecommute

What commute could be shorter than from your bedroom to your desk at home?

Modern technology has made it easier than ever for people to work from home, with this ‘telecommuting’ becoming more and more popular.

If it’s not critical for you to be in the office, in person, all of the time, then why not consider approaching your boss about working one or two days per week from home?

2) Shift your hours so you’re not travelling in peak time

If you drive to work, you know that travelling in peak times can add a significant amount of time to your journey.

To beat the rush, consider switching your nine-to-five day to a ten-to-six, or an eight-to-four! You may be surprised at how much time you can save, how much less stressful your journey will be, and hence how much more productive you may be when at work.

3) Get on your bike (or the train or bus)

If you aren’t able to cut time out of your journey, you may be able to change the way that you travel to counteract some of the negative health impacts of sitting in your car.

Ditching the car for public transport and standing up on your bus, train or tram will help.

Or consider riding your bike for at least part of your journey – you might even find that compared to sitting in traffic jams, riding your bike is both quicker and more enjoyable.

You’ll arrive at work or home more energised, it’ll certainly help keep you fit, and it could also save time that you might otherwise spend at the gym or exercising after work.

4) Join a carpool

If you work with people who live in your area then starting a carpool at your work might be a great option – that means you can share the driving responsibilities, and the stress that comes with it!

Not only is carpooling better for the environment but it will give you an opportunity to connect with someone socially during your travel time, which can combat the loneliness that a long, solo commute can create.

5) Find a more local job

This is a more long-term option, but if your office is 45 minutes or more away then you may want to consider looking for something closer to home.

Obviously it may not be practical to quit your job just to be closer to home, but when you’re considering a new job, consider making “commute time” a serious factor in your job search.

Do you have a long commute to work? We’d love to hear some of your tips on how you keep your sanity during your travel time!


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