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The health impacts of the ‘rush hour’ commute

Every day, over 24 million people commute to and from work across England and Wales, mainly using modes of transport that leave us sitting or standing still for the length of the journey, such as cars, trains or buses.

The latest report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) – Health in a Hurry – is based on findings from a Populus survey of 1,500, which reveal that this daily inactivity is having a profound, long-term impact on the health and wellbeing of the UK workforce.

How is the daily commute affecting our health and wellbeing?

It’s estimated that 90% of the UK workforce commute to work, with average commute times being highest in London (79 mins) followed by the South East and the East of England (60 mins). Arguably, the commute punctuates the working day, and many will find that the experience sets the tone for both the time spent in the office and their behaviour outside of work.

It’s worrying therefore that more than half (55%) of the 1,500 commuters polled by Populus reported an increase in stress levels during their journey, likely due to the overcrowding and delays that have come as a result of our transport infrastructure’s inability to cope with increasing demand.

Furthermore, the commute is having a detrimental effect on many people’s quality of life by eating into valuable free time.

Our findings include:

    • 44% report reduced time spent with family and friends

    • 41% report reduced amount of physical activity

    • 38% report reduced time preparing healthy meals

    • 33% report increased snacking

    • 39% report increased consumption of fast food

    • 35% report reduced time spent sleeping

Clearly the daily to and fro is preventing commuters from keeping up with healthy habits such as regular exercise and eating freshly prepared meals. In fact, the average UK commuter adds almost 800 extra calories to their diet every week as a result of their journey.

Let’s not forget the detrimental impact that stress and lack of sleep can have on mental wellbeing.

Combatting the commute

So what needs to change in order to improve the health of the UK’s commuters?

The RSPH is calling for:

    • Employers to adopt flexible and remote working, instigating a departure from the 9-to-5 culture, giving people the option to avoid the morning commute

    • Department for Transport to introduce ‘health and wellbeing’ as a specification in transport franchises

    • Greater restrictions on unhealthy food and drink outlets in stations to encourage commuters to choose healthier options

Read the full RSPH report.

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