No one wants to be stuck in traffic, especially when research shows how bad it can be for our health.
Long daily commutes may leave less time on busy workdays for travelers, who tend to be less physically active, overweight, drink more alcohol, and sleep well as a result.
Sitting in traffic can also raise your blood pressure, a study last week found – not because of frustration, but because of the air pollution that drivers breathe.
Nowhere are those health effects felt more acutely, perhaps, than in South Korea, a country thought to have some of the longest average commute times and highest rates of depression in the world. OECD countries.
Yet little research has been done on the health effects of long trips in Asian populations, or to understand how the physical effects can snowball into poor mental health, such as depression.
A new study of more than 23,000 people corrects the research gap, finding that South Koreans who commute longer than an hour are 16 percent more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those with shorter commutes under 30 minutes.
Dong-Wook Lee, a public health researcher at Inha University in Korea, and colleagues dug into data on working-age participants from the Fifth Korean Working Condition Survey, a nationally representative survey that made in 2017.
Survey participants answered questions based on the World Health Organization’s five-point well-being index, where researchers scored their mental health.
The average daily travel time is 47 minutes. That equates to almost 4 hours of commuting per week if people work 5 days.
A quarter of the 23,415 respondents reported experiencing symptoms of depression, judged by their index scores – a far cry from a doctor’s examination or any other type of diagnosis.
Although the study did not show cause and effect, the link between hours-long commutes and poorer mental health among men was strongest for those who were single, worked more than 52 hours per week, and no children.
Among women, long commute hours were most strongly associated with depressive symptoms among low-income workers, shift workers, and those with children.
“With less time available, people may lack time to relieve stress and fight physical fatigue through sleep, hobbies, and other activities,” researchers told the Korean Biomedical Review.
While the analysis adjusted for age, weekly work hours, income, occupation, and job shift — all factors that affect a person’s mental health — many individual risk factors for those Symptoms of depression, such as family history, cannot be considered.
Korea’s national survey data also do not specify the modes of transportation used by commuters. However, switching from driving to active transportation such as cycling or walking can improve commuters’ mental health, a 2018 study of nearly 4,500 UK survey participants found.
There are some possible advantages of a longer journey that we should not miss: some passengers describe their long journey home as a good time to ‘stop’ or quit work.
It is also worth noting that the survey in Korea was conducted before the pandemic, which saw a dramatic change in the way we work – but not everyone can work from home.
“The association between long commute times and worsening depressive symptoms was found to be stronger among low-income workers,” the researchers said.
“However, the shift to working from home occurred much more quickly among white-collar and high-income workers” than among low-income workers.
“Reducing travel time and distance through improved transportation can provide a better travel environment for people and improve their health,” the researchers concluded.
The study was published in Journal of Transportation and Health.