Austin Traffic Talk

How your terrible Austin commute is harmful to your health

How your terrible Austin commute is harmful to your health

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Commutes longer than 30 minutes can have negative impacts on your health and wellbeing. Courtesy photo

It's no secret that traffic's a bummer, no matter where you live or how long your commute. A recent story from Health.com sheds light on scientific reasons to hate those minutes wasted in the car. Drawing on a variety of studies and polls conducted over the past eight years, the article argues that a daily commute longer than 30 minutes can negatively impact your health and wellbeing, especially targeted to weight gain and stress levels. Which is bad news for Austinites, who sit in some of the worst traffic in the nation.

 Traveling by car or having a commute longer than 30 minutes correlates with higher blood pressure and stress levels, according to one study. 

According to a 2012 report cited by Health.com, the longer our commute, the more likely we are to be overweight. Researchers contend that the time spent traveling cuts into the time we could use for exercising, resulting in higher weight levels — especially for those who commute by car. Separate conclusions show that car drivers tend to weigh five or six pounds more than those who take alternative transportation.

Research like this 2014 study suggest that our mental health is at stake as well. "People who drove, carpooled or took public transportation to work were less able to enjoy daily activities and had more trouble concentrating compared to walkers or cyclists," Health.com summarizes. And other studies back that up: In 2014, researchers in the UK found links between long commutes and high anxiety levels and lower life satisfaction. A 2012 study found that traveling by car or having a commute longer than 30 minutes correlated with higher blood pressure.

Austinites are probably familiar with their blood pressure rising. As we wrote last month, Austinites spend an extra 21 minutes in the car per day on what should be a 30 minute commute, amounting to about 80 hours wasted in traffic per year.

 Mayor Steve Adler named mobility as one of the two major challenges facing Austin during his State of the City address. 

During his first State of the City Address on Monday, Mayor Steve Adler named mobility as one of the two major challenges facing Austin. "Austin is one of the most congested cities in the country," said Adler — which is true. Austin has the 13th worst traffic congestion in the nation.

"When the transportation bond failed last year, our traffic problems did not magically disappear; they are still here and getting worse every day." And based on the research, our health problems related to commuting are likely getting worse every day, too.

The mayor outlined several tools and plans to battle congestion, including an online discussion forum and initiatives to increase transportation alternatives, fix underlying infrastructure problems and reduce the amount of cars on the road. "If we can get just 17,000 cars off road at rush hour, we could potentially lighten traffic to levels we enjoy on state holidays," claimed Adler.

It may be a while until Austinites experience Labor Day traffic every day, but Health.com offered several suggestions to help combat bad traffic symptoms in the meantime: sit up straight, take deeper breaths and scheduling more daily physical activity.