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Want to Lose Weight? Lose the Commute.
posted in Public Health // 05/22/12

It  sounds like the beginning of a bad infomercial, but according to a new report from the Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, the longer the commute the more weight people tend to gain. A number of factors contribute to the tire-around-the-belly syndrome, as this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explored on Sunday: Commute Can Add Unwanted Pounds.

People who commute more than 15 miles to work each day are more likely to be obese, have bigger bellies and suffer higher blood pressure… The average round-trip commute in metro Atlanta is about 35 miles and takes roughly one hour, according to The Clean Air Campaign.


In the study of nearly 4,300 residents in two Texas cities, researchers discovered: About 18 percent of those with short commutes were obese, compared with 25 percent of those who commuted more than 15 miles; about 45 percent of those with short commutes had elevated blood pressure, compared with 52 percent of those who traveled more than 15 miles each way. (Those numbers were not adjusted for age or gender).

Several factors contribute to increased weight gain as a result of lengthy commutes in addition to sitting still in a car for up to an hour or two each way to and from work:

  • The free time it eats up that could otherwise be spent on exercise
  • The propensity to pick up fast food or unhealthy meals on the way home instead of cooking
  • The raised blood pressure one tends to experience from gridlock on the roads
  • The inability to get up and move around like you would be able to do sitting at a desk job or even watching TV on your couch

People with longer commutes were also more likely to carry more fat around the belly, where it is particularly bad for cardiovascular health.


“A commute could be two hours of your day every day and you may have little control over that,” said Hoehner. “I think you need to look at everything else in your life and find ways to incorporate exercise into your life.”

So people are changing their habits. With a complicated housing and employment market, few people are willing to take a chance on making changes to either where they live or their job. One man that the AJC interviewed started riding his bike 20 miles each way between his home in Woodstock to his job in Alpharetta. A woman who drives 62 miles each way gave up fast food pitstops for healthy snacks and walks before and after work. A man with a 90 minute commute between Cumming and Marietta started working with a personal trainer in the pre-dawn hours.

It’s worth taking the time to reconsider our health and what changes we can make to improve our quality of life.

The Clean Air Campaign offers perks for carpooling, biking, and other alternatives to commuting.

The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition offers safe bike riding classes and a myriad of other services for those on two wheels.

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