Long commutes increase weight, make you less healthy

26 August 2016

Being stuffed inside a sweaty tube for your journey to and from work can be a total drag. But aside from the often unpleasant business of spending the entire hour pressed into someone else's armpit, commuting can have a negative effect on your waistline too.

According to research from the UK's Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) commuters add an extra 800 calories to their diets every week as a result of their travel to and from work.

Out of a poll of 1,500 workers, around 33 per cent reported they snack more during their commute, two in five (38 per cent) said they spent less time preparing healthy meals, while 29 per cent admitted their fast food consumption increased. Yeah, thanks Starbucks, Subway et al.

But we can't entirely lay the blame of our bulging belts at the floor of the fast food giants. The average time spent commuting in the UK has increased in recent years to almost an hour a day, and those in London have it the worst, averaging 79 minutes to reach their workplace. And the commute to work is one of the least active periods of the day.

So, while we're marking time stuck on an overcrowded tube, we're spending less time on health-boosting activities such as cooking, exercising and sleeping. It's little wonder long commutes have been linked with increased stress, higher blood pressure and BMI.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH, said of the report, ''For some of us the daily commute can be a pleasurable experience, giving time for reflection or an opportunity to relax; but for an increasing number of us it is having a damaging effect on our health and wellbeing. As the length of our commute increases this impact is getting worse, including by contributing to rising levels of stress, adding to our waistlines, or eating into time we could otherwise spend doing activities which enhance our health and wellbeing such as sleep, exercise or time spent with friends or family.''

The RSPH hopes the report will encourage employers to increase flexible and home working, which will help to ease the strain on the roads and rail network during rush hour. It is also calling on transport providers to make the commuting environment more health-promoting for example restricting the proliferation of junk food outlets in stations.

''Taking public transport should be encouraged and made as attractive as possible, so there needs to be greater consideration given to supporting passenger's health and wellbeing.''

But in the meantime there are ways to have a healthier commute, because while the daily trek to and from work is unavoidable it doesn't have to be miserable. There are some commute-friendly exercises that are discreet enough to stop you looking weird, but worth it in terms of toning benefits. Try some glute squeezes for a simple but effective exercise that might counteract some of those on-the-go bacon butties.

Fast food signs burn all the more brightly you're hungry. So avoid temptation by eating a healthy breakfast before you leave home. No time? Whizz up a healthy smoothie and take it in one of those snazzy commuter cups.

And breathe deep. When you're train's ground to a halt or you're stuck on a road to nowhere, try to avoid a mental meltdown by taking a few deep breaths. Focusing on a simple breathing exercise will not only help you relax, it'll ease those 'I'm gonna be late' stresses.

To prevent a pre-dinner meltdown, or a sausage sarnie snackstop on the way to work get in the habit of taking healthy titbits for snacking on the go. Dried fruit, unsalted nuts and rice cakes will help kick the cravings but cut the calories.

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