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Tackling traffic: a health hazard

The health consequences of a long commute

commuter trafficNo matter in which direction you’re travelling, weekday commutes by highway in many Canadian cities often result in being stuck in traffic turmoil.

Lisa May Huby, marketing and communications manager at Alterna Savings and Credit Union, gets up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to fit in an hour of exercise before driving the 60- to 120-minute commute from her Barrie, Ont., home to the Toronto head office.

“We have put a lot of work into our house and I grew up close by, so I am not prepared to move,” she says.

To combat congestion, Huby tries to leave later in the morning to avoid rush hour (8 a.m. as opposed to 6:15 to 7:45 a.m.), uses her cellphone speaker to chat during slow-moving gridlock, has a favourite radio station for distraction and telecommutes one day per week.

According to a 2011 Toronto Board of Trade study titled, Scorecard on Prosperity, Toronto commuters travel the longest to get to work. statistics Canada shows one-way Toronto car commutes are 33 minutes compared to the 26-minute average. Overall, 82 percent of Canadians travel by car to get to work.

Traffic congestion can impact health

Traffic congestion impacts your health. It has been shown to trigger primal human combative aggression, which creates negative hormonal, nervous system and muscle responses, Matthew Mayer, senior information specialist at heart and stroke Foundation in Toronto, confirms.

“The length — in time and distance — of your commute has been directly linked to adverse health effects concerning weight, waist size (and/or BMI), blood cholesterol, blood pressure, mental stress and reduced participation in physical activity, which are modifiable risk factors for heart disease, stroke and other chronic illnesses.”

Idle zone

    The longest average commute times in Canada belong to:

  • Toronto – 33 minutes
  • Montreal – 31 minutes
  • Vancouver – 30 minutes

—Statistics Canada, 2010

It’s not just drivers who suffer. Passengers sometimes suffer neck and spine issues due to sitting in the same position for extended periods, posture contortions to wedge into back seats and constant road vibrations that put pressure on discs in the lower back. Commuters also get more headaches and muscle pain such as sciatica.

The drive?

Pamela Stewart, VP marketing at Alterna, says most people drive to the Toronto location, situated close to the airport, and although some come from as far as Oakville, she specifically chose her home to keep the commute to 15 minutes. ◊