Studies: Long Seattle-area commutes harm overall health

SEATTLE - Battling the morning or evening rush hour can be brutal in our region. New findings reveal the long hours spent behind the wheel may also be harming your overall physical health.

The average American's commute to work is 25.5 minutes each way, according to a report in USA Today. That's about 51 minutes a day getting to and from work, or about 204 hours a year spent commuting.

And for many people in Western Washington, the daily commute is a lot longer than that. Depending upon the length of time you're isolated in the car, the commute can have short and possibly long-term effects.

Many drivers are familiar with a concrete crawl, no matter where you live in the Pacific Northwest.

"It just gets worse and worse," says commuter Dean Keppler.

"Frustrated and miserable," agrees commuter David Matthews.

That stress you feel is increased, along with your anxiety levels, if you commute more than 30 minutes to work, according to a report by the UK's Office of National Statistics.

The same report found that people with commutes of any length experience lower life satisfaction than people with no commutes at all.

And commuting during rush hour - especially when you're concerned that you may be late to work or to an important meeting - can result in temporary spikes in stress levels that jack up your blood pressure, even if it's normally stable.

A Texas study also found that the farther participants lived from where they worked, the higher their blood pressure was. And high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

To avoid the grind, Nancy Robinson packed up her home years ago.

"It stressed me out so much that I made my husband move to Bellevue, so that I could be closer to work," Robinson said.

Dr. Keith Dipboye of Virginia Mason Medical Center has seen a slight health decline in his patients with longer commutes.

"In big studies the length of your commute correlates with how fat you are (and) whether you're likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, problems like that," Dr. Dipboye said.

He says the isolation and sitting alone are unequivocally bad - even for bus riders.

"A person who works a 12-hour day but has a minimal commute actually doesn't have the same health effects or stress effects as someone who works a 10-hour day, but has a long commute," Dr. Dipboye said.

Try this the next time you're caught in the congestion. Take long, slow, deep breaths or roll your neck in circles while you wait, a little car yoga to help ease the unavoidable gridlock.