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Long commutes can kill you—maybe even literally. Just the act of sitting for long periods of time has been called “the new smoking”. Plus, all that time spent in a car commuting to and from work, or driving your children to and from school and extracurricular activities can rob an individual of much-needed time for other things.  Things like exercise, getting sunlight (essential for vitamin D), socializing with family and friends and preparing healthy, home-cooked meals.

One study found an unhealthy link between suburban sprawl and obesity. Though sprawl may not be causative, it likely contributes to the overall modern trend. Leigh Gallagher, an editor at Fortune magazine, wrote, “New Yorkers, perhaps the ultimate walkers, weigh six or seven pounds less on average than suburban Americans.” Having necessary services within walking distance contributes to better health. A recent UK study found that people who biked or walked to their work greatly decreased their risk for obesity and diabetes. No surprise there.

One study in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that long driving commutes are linked “to a greater risk of depression, anxiety and social isolation, all of which can impair the quality and length of life.” Long commutes can also put a strain on relationships. One worker in Anaheim, California was only able to afford a house in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles. His 120-mile round-trip daily commute meant that he spent 8 hours on the road, Monday through Friday. His wife only had time with him on weekends. Needless to say, he didn’t have much of a life outside of work.

With these sorts of horror stories in mind, we thought we’d offer some suggestions to improve your health and overall quality of life while commuting.

  • Don’t!—Some companies allow (or even encourage) telecommuting. Even if you can work from home only one or two days a week, that could greatly improve your outlook on life.
  • Carpool—Sharing a ride will allow you to socialize while you’re stuck in traffic.
  • Stop along the way—By breaking up a long commute into shorter segments, you give yourself a chance to at least stretch and walk around. Perhaps you can even stop at a juice bar or gym to add a healthy spin to your daily activity.
  • Bicycle—If you have a safe path or bike lane between your home and work, a bicycle can give you much-needed exercise and a healthy change of pace.
  • Walk—If you live close enough, you can walk to work.
  • Public transportation—Walking to the transportation terminal or bus stop can give you a little exercise, but on the subway or bus you can get time to read a good book or to socialize and make new friends.

One interesting website (http://healthycommute.frogdesign.com) gives you suggestions for healthy things you can do along your commute route, including healthy eating and exercise. You enter your starting point and destination, or simply enter a starting point for local points of interest and the site will show your route on a map with the healthy attractions along the way.

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