6 Ways Commuting Is Bad for Your Health (and How to Fix It)

A large majority of us drive back and forth to work every day, completely oblivious to the damage being done to our physical and mental health:

  • Our blood pressure rises.
  • Our anxiety goes into overdrive.
  • Even our cholesterol increases.

If you thought backaches were the only hazard as you ease on down the road, think again and keep reading. We have the scoop on the six ways commuting can negatively impact your health — and what you can do to change that.

1. Commuting Increases Anxiety

Thousands of commuters suffer from anxiety and don’t even realize it. For example, drivers commuting in snowy regions may experience heightened anxiety during snow storms. The roads are much slicker and the chances of a collision are greater. Drivers in big cities may struggle with anxiety, too. Early morning commutes are packed with late drivers, busy crosswalks, and still-tired commuters.

If you find your heart beating a little faster or you’re struggling to find your breath (common symptoms of anxiety), bear in mind that your anxiety can affect your mentally and physically long term, especially if it happens daily.

How to Lower Anxiety:

Even if the world around you is whizzing by at warp speed, continue to drive safely and cautiously. Your anxiety will lessen significantly. If the thick traffic is a concern, consider taking a less populated route to work. If the commute is still heavy no matter what route you take, driving in an hour earlier can greatly reduce your anxiety. You can even get some work done at your desk without distractions.

6 Ways Commuting Is Bad for Your Health (and How to Fix It)2. Commuting Compromises Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, commuting just a short ten miles can cause our blood pressure and cholesterol to spike. When we sense danger, we naturally default to “fight or flight” mode to manage the potential danger. This is where we see a spike in blood pressure.

On the flip side, our cholesterol may increase because we’re not as active during a drive. The same study claims the more sedentary we become behind the wheel, the less active we are in all areas of our lives. And when we are less active, we often make poor dietary choices that can lead to weight gain. That weight gain can show up with increased cholesterol levels and metabolic risk.

How to Avoid These Spikes

If dangerous situations cause your blood pressure to spike, consider taking a defensive driving course. Not only will you receive a discount on your car insurance, you’ll also gain a greater understanding of how to manage aggressive drivers and difficult situations on the road.

If higher cholesterol is the issue, it could be because high-pressure situations cause you to stress. You may respond by heading for the donuts in the break room. Decide instead to make a healthy breakfast in the morning. Your body will already have consumed carbs to draw from, making the desire to eat five donuts after a hellish drive, less likely.

6 Ways Commuting Is Bad for Your Health (and How to Fix It)3. Commuting Decreases Happiness

If your anxiety is in overdrive, your blood pressure is at an all-time high, and you find yourself reaching for sugary sweets in an attempt to decrease it, there’s no question that your mental health is on the decline. And once that takes a hit, it’s all downhill from there.

Dealing with stress on the road before walking into a stressful work environment can launch you into a state of depression that, when unchecked, can manifest quickly. You may find yourself becoming a more aggressive driver, taking your frustration out on other driver’s. That anger can follow you into the workplace, making you crankier than ever.

How to Keep Your Happiness Tank Full:

Nothing changes until you decide to change it. If you’re becoming an aggressive driver, again, consider taking a defensive driving course. Learn how to manage your desire to take risks on the road. Outside of that, practice mindfulness during the commute. This doesn’t mean meditating during the drive (because that’s just not possible), it means being mindful of what’s going on around you and making the conscious decision to be present and focused during your entire commute. This allows you to respond accordingly when a dangerous scenario arises.

6 Ways Commuting Is Bad for Your Health (and How to Fix It)4. Commuting Disturbs Your Body

For those commuting 45 minutes or more, it turns out lower sleep quality isn’t unusual. Managing the possible dangers of the road, coupled with avoiding aggressive drivers or road hazards, can exhaust us to the point of overwhelm. And while one might think that exhaustion means better sleep, in our overstimulated world, it’s just the opposite.

In addition, driving long periods of time compromises our backs and other parts of our bodies. Poor posture affects our overall health. Our spine and shoulders suffer, as do our knees and hips. This causes a series of skeletal issues that lead to back, joint, and muscle pain.

How to Get Your Body Not-Mad:

They say food and physical activity is the elixir to overall good health, and in this instance, it’s especially true. If you drive a lot and are constantly in a curved position, work the kinks out. Take a walk on your break. Take a walk when you get home. If you have a gym membership, use it. Do exercises and stretches right in the office. The only way to “undo” body issues is by moving your body. Even a twenty-minute walk can do wonders.

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5. Commuting Lowers Your IQ

Blame it on Sunday drives, but it turns out that the more time we spend behind the wheel, the more our IQ steadily declines. Who knew, right? When we drive, we are less active, both mentally and physically. When we are less active so are our brains, causing all factors in our brains to decline.

We may even zone out. Have you ever driven several miles, arrived at your destination, and then thought, “I don’t remember getting off the exit!” If this happens it’s because your brain became sedentary during the commute. You zoned. Checked out. Went into another dimension. But fear not; you can prevent this from happening by making a few adjustments.

How to Save Your Brain:

To avoid your brain from frying up completely, listen to audio books while commuting. Sing along to the radio. Chat with your passengers. And while you can’t do calisthenics in the driver’s seat, you can certainly pull over and take a walk along that breathtaking trail you saw the signs for a few miles back. If your drive is longer than two hours, taking a short break with a twenty-minute walk will save your brain. If your commute is short, stick with listening to the radio as you drive into work.

6 Ways Commuting Is Bad for Your Health (and How to Fix It)6. Commuting Encourages Risk Taking

Multitasking, the process when we switch from one mental process to another, is considered hazardous when it happens behind the wheel. You man not lose any brain cells here, but you could certainly lose your life or take the life of another. It turns out those who multitask are natural risk takers. Taking risks to grow in business and in our personal lives is a beautiful thing, but if the risk doesn’t serve the greater good, no one grows.

Multitasking requires us to split our brain power and focus, which actually diverts us from our primary goal of commuting to and from work safely. Texting, making calls, searching for that Lionel Richie CD, putting on makeup, or attempting to read in busy traffic, are all things that people do to try and multitask on the way to work.

How to Avoid Multitasking:

Put your phone in the trunk. Wake up twenty minutes earlier and put your makeup on in the bathroom. Find the CD you want to listen to before you put the car in drive. Consider all the things that could go wrong by attempting to multitask, and keep considering them. While we think we’re multitasking geniuses, the truth is, we’re really not. We’re actually the kind who are normally distracted to begin with, and adding more to our plate is truly a recipe for disaster.

Will You Let Commuting Impact Your Health?

Exercise, good food, and taking a route with less traffic can greatly decrease the negative impact of commuting. So now the only question that remains is: what will you do first to improve your work commute?

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Becca Borawski Jenkins
Becca is a bit like a cat — she’s gone through a few “lives” to get to her current one (with which she’s quite pleased). She earned her MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC’s famed film school, and her first career was as a music editor (if you’ve watched Scrubs, you’ve likely heard her work).

Becca found her way to career number two through martial arts. She began training in BJJ and muay Thai and started working with professional MMA fighters, building websites, working on fight promotions, and producing videos.

As a competitor in BJJ herself, Becca wanted to get stronger and fitter. In 2005, she became a student at CrossFit Los Angeles where she met WLC co-founders Andy Petranek and Michael Stanwyck. In only a couple years, she became CrossFit Level III Certified, left her entertainment career, and dedicated herself full time to coaching, serving as the Program Director of CFLA and founder of the CFLA CrossFit Kids program.

After seven years as a music editor and then eight years as fitness instructor, Becca segued to her current career — full-time editor and writer. She and her husband are full-time RVers and have a first-hand comprehension of the pros and cons of remote work.