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Driving to Work Degrades Mental Health but Active Commuting Improves It

Want to be happier (and avoid relapse?) Well, leave the car at home and walk, cycle or bus to work. Researchers say active commuting leads to substantial psychological health gains.

Is your daily commute affecting your health and happiness?

Well, according to English researchers, if you drive a car to work each day, it probably is.

Moving beyond the obvious physical health benefits of more active modes of transportation, public health researchers at East Anglia University in the U.K. sifted through 18 years of data on nearly 18 000 people to see how driving in a car to work each day affected mental health and overall wellness. Measures of psychological wellness included: ability to sleep at night, problem solving ability, feelings of self-worth and overall happiness.

The Findings

They found that:

  • Having a longer drive to work worsened physiological health, however, having a longer walk or cycle to work improved psychological health.
  • Active commuters reported better concentration and less stress than car commuters.
  • People who switched from driving to work to walking or cycling reported increased happiness.
  • Surprisingly, people who rode public transportation to work also reported better psychological health than car drivers. The benefits of public transit were not as substantial as the benefits seen with active commuting.

The Commentary

Summing up their findings, the researchers suggest that at the macro level, persuading even a fraction of commuters to switch to active commuting could result in substantial national mental health gains.

And in the journal Preventative Medicine, they also offer some individual advice, writing, “car driving (a non-passive travel mode that requires constant concentration) can give rise to boredom, social isolation, and stress…avoiding car driving may be beneficial to well-being.”

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