Have you ever considered your relationship with your car?
Not how your car makes you look or feel. Not the razzle-dazzle options or the carbon footprint. Not the paint that highlights your hair or eyes. Rather, what is all that driving doing to you?
The daily slog, the big commute, and the moving parking lot are slowly reconfiguring your body.
You might think: That’s what I bought the car for, to transform me from someone who is not really cool or successful to someone who is both. Good luck with that!
Studies have shown that the length of your commute is associated with an entire spectrum of health problems. Stress is a big one. Emotionally venting about the skill level of the driver in front of you is associated with high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Your blood pressure can go up a surprising amount when you are angry. It is amazing there are not more heart attacks and strokes while driving.
I observed while teaching my daughter to drive that she thought driver commentary was somehow necessary to the overall process.
If you map commute length and obesity rates in the U.S., they match up almost perfectly. However, matching up does not necessarily mean they have anything to do with each other.
Scientists have studied this by controlling every variable to isolate the commute effect. They conclude that a long commute will cause weight gain.
One reason is that long commutes cause fatigue. The fatigue is real, though the why is hotly debated. Bumper-to-bumper traffic and long commutes translate into fewer calories burned and a tendency to gain weight.
And your commute hours are subtracted from your personal time, not your work time. With a couple hours less per day to fit everything in, something has to give. Often it’s sleep or exercise. Lack of either one translates into weight gain.
Your ride selection may have something to do with it as well. Cars are often bought with much more thought to the drink-holders than to the warranty. Leather seats are high on the wish list, the better to snuggle in while sipping that morning quad mocha with extra whip cream.
Now, this long commute effect seems to be specific to car commutes. Commuting by public transportation does not provide the same demographic or the same result. Commuting via public transportation involves a lot of walking, which is less streamlined and efficient than commuting via car, but burns more calories. Taking Uber or Lyft, car pools, or using a self-driving car is all too new to be studied.
We know that long commutes are not very good for you. But knowledge is power, so strategies to combat this are available.
Selling your house and getting one close to work would be a little drastic, but it would fix the problem. Knowing you are tired after the commute home each night suggests your daily exercise should be done in the morning. Another possible solution is to minimize the commute by changing work hours to avoid rush hour, or even working remotely.
Finally, about that beverage of choice. All the great things you have heard about coffee (bioflavonoids, antioxidant, etc.) are from the actual coffee, not the whipped cream.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona, clinic.