How commuting every day negatively affects your health and wellbeing

How commuting every day negatively affects your health and wellbeing
How commuting every day negatively affects your health and wellbeing

Commuting to work is a normal part of everyday life, but with an ever-increasing number of commuters and an ever-decreasing number of train carriages and bus services, the daily journey is becoming more chaotic.

And the recent and ongoing disruption thanks to timetable changes across the rail network has made journeys for thousands of commuters almost unbearable.

Delays, cancellation and cramped conditions are becoming the norm, with some unable to get on their train to or from work due to limited space and reduced carriages.

The ever-increasing commuter chaos is leaving passengers irritated and deflated, which can ultimately have an impact on both physical and mental health.

Delays, cancellation and cramped conditions are now people a regularly part of life for commuters (Photo: Shutterstock)
Delays, cancellation and cramped conditions are now people a regularly part of life for commuters (Photo: Shutterstock)

‘Health in a Hurry’

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), released a study in 2016 called ‘Health in a Hurry: the impact of rush hour commuting on our health and wellbeing’.

As the title suggests, the report highlights the impact of travelling to and from work by rail, bus and car on the public’s health and wellbeing.

Health in a Hurry explains that “the commute arguably frames the workday, with the potential to set the tone of an individual’s day at work and impact their behaviour elsewhere.”

The key points of the report:

  • Longer commute times are associated with: increased stress, higher blood pressure and BMI, reduced time available for health-promoting activities such as cooking, exercising and sleeping
  • Commuters spend an average of 56 minutes travelling to work each day, with research indicating that this has increased in recent years
  • There is growing evidence showing the detrimental impact of lengthy, non-active commutes on our health and wellbeing
  • Research indicates that commuting can reduce mental wellbeing and negatively impact physical health
  • Inactivity poses a major challenge to the public’s health

Opinion polling also indicated that the factors seen as most detrimental to health and wellbeing by commuters themselves included: journey delays, overcrowding, anti-social behaviour, uncomfortable temperatures and a long commute.

Longer commute times are associated with increased stress, higher blood pressure and BMI (Photo: Shutterstock)
Longer commute times are associated with increased stress, higher blood pressure and BMI (Photo: Shutterstock)

Mental wellbeing, productivity and physiological effects

In 2017, a study of more than 34,000 workers across all UK industries, which was developed by VitalityHealth, the University of Cambridge, RAND Europe and Mercer, examined the impact of commuting on employee health and productivity.

Chris Bailey, partner at Mercer, said: “Time scarcity is a significant cause of stress and unhealthy behaviour across UK employees”.

This study found that:

  • Those who commuted to work in under half an hour gained an additional seven days worth of productive time each year, opposed to those who commuted for an hour or more at a time.
  • Longer commutes appeared to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing with longer-commuting workers, with 33% more likely to suffer from depression
  • 37% were more likely to have financial worries
  • 12% were more likely to report multiple aspects of work-related stress
  • 46% were more likely to get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep each night
  • 21% were more likely to be obese

‘We’re not getting value for money’

Chris Hyomes, Director of Communications at Railfuture, a UK advocacy group that promotes better rail services for passengers and freight, explains that public transport needs to be made more attractive so that people want to use it.

“More people are commuting today more than ever”, he says, adding that with this, commuters have the “stress of getting to work on time”.

As a commuter himself, Mr Hyomes believes that rail travel at the moment is completely unacceptable:

“We’re being forced out of public transport and with train fares going up every year, users are not getting value for money.”

The daily commute can be long and tiring for many, but with the added pressure of public transport delays and cancellations now seemingly unavoidable, not to mention the cramped conditions, the negative impact of commuting on health and wellbeing is unlikely to improve any time soon.