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14 May 2024

Commuting to work. Is it good or bad for your well-being?

Commuting to work. Is it good or bad for your well-being?

Let’s be honest: the commute to work for some of us was becoming a real bind in 2019, and for some of us well before that. Roadworks on major routes, ‘not -so-smart’ motorways, potholes and congestion in many town and city centres made the day long and tiresome. Crushingly expensive rail fares and waiting in the elements for slow buses made the alternatives to the car less than attractive.

Then came COVID. For those still commuting, it meant less buses and trains, but empty carriages. It also meant quiet highways with zero road works, no queues, no congestion and drive times slashed.

But slowly things have returned to normal and earlier this year, for the first time in nearly four years, traffic volumes were back to pre-pandemic levels. Bus and train passenger numbers are still below 2019 numbers, but for different reasons, commuters are finding these modes of transport just as challenging.

The negative impact of long, sedentary commutes

The downside of the return to normal is longer and more expensive commutes. The average commuter spends just under one hour travelling to work each day, and research shows that this will increase beyond pre-Covid numbers.

Research suggests that sedentary commutes can diminish mental wellbeing, adversely affect physical health such as raising blood pressure and reduce the time available for health promoting behaviour, such as eating the right foods and being physically active. In contrast, active travel benefits are well-documented. But there is evidence that lengthy, non-active commutes are having a damaging on the nation’s health through inactivity.

  • Over 50% of workers say the commute increases their levels of stress
  • Over 40% say their commute reduces the time they spend being physically active
  • More than a third say the commute reduces their time in bed

Is working from home the answer?

So, is the answer simply to work from home? Apparently not, research suggests. There is strong evidence indicating that the commute enables people time to adjust from leisure to work mode and vice versa, which home-working does not necessarily afford. Plus, working from home has its own mental health challenges with isolation and lack of human interaction.

So, what is the answer?

Active commuting ticks all the boxes. Walking, running or cycling to work gives people time to drop into switch-off mode after work, and provides a time when they can ‘actively’ use their commute-time. But what can employers do to encourage this?

Sarah Mainwaring, KPI’s HR Executive said, “Businesses should implement measures and flexible working to enable employees to maximise active commuting. Actions could include:

  • Allowing flexible start and finish times to avoid the worst of the rush hour
  • Encouraging use of public transport which will usually require some walking
  • Promoting biking to work by taking advantage of the cycle to work scheme
  • Installing showers at work to facilitate running and cycling
  • Offering gym membership for clubs close to offices, or accommodate their own fitness facilities

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