You are reading Commuting: this is why it is three times harmful to your health


Commuting: this is why it is three times harmful to your health

June 28, 2019

More than half of the Italian population lives in the North and the areas most affected are Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy and Veneto. The phenomenon of those who move every day and travel long distances to get to work, using effort and economic resources, affects 30 million Italians every day. But the experts warn: stress and damage to health are part of the life of the commuter and it is good to do the math. If they exceed a certain threshold, they can really affect the well-being of the individual, reducing his time to do sport, to be with friends and family, to take care of food and to relax at the end of the day. We talked about it with Professor Daniela Lucini, of the Exercise medicine unit at Humanitas.


“The paradox of commuting”

With the increasingly precarious work and lack of contractual security that characterizes modern times, it has become increasingly difficult to live close to the workplace. Many people do not want and cannot afford to move every time their work changes and moves to a different place. Result? Too many, too many hours spent daily on the train and in the car. Sometimes it’s a precise choice: not living in the city to enjoy the tranquility and less pollution of the countryside. But is it really a choice of health?

The so-called “paradox of commuting” sees the benefits of the greenery of the suburbs cancelled out in the journey.


The effects of altering the sleep-wake rhythm

According to a recent study, as the distance and travel time between home and work increases, the severity of sleep-wake rhythm disorders and the incidence of chronic stress increases. “Precariousness, which obliges people to change and not be able to choose; globalization, which leads companies to move employees between locations; the life choices of those who, unlike in the past, live far from the workplace,” explains Giuseppe Taino, occupational physician and first author of a study on the effects of commuting on health just appeared in the Italian Journal of Occupational Medicine and Ergonomics. “In Italy, this is a problem that has not been studied very much and that is not taken into account in the regulations, despite the fact that its effects are also of an economic nature, given the repercussions on productivity”.

In the analysis, carried out on two hundred commuting workers from three companies in Lombardy, who underwent periodic health checks, his group focused on alterations in the sleep-wake rhythm, insomnia, headache and disturbances during sleep, “all aspects already known to be the most affected by the discomfort,” explains Taino.


Smart and flexible working among the solutions

The problem of commuting could be reduced by companies in two ways: smart working, which allows you to work from home according to the criteria of objectives and not the presence of in the office, but also by flexible work, which would allow you to enter the office at different times, away from rush hour.

According to the Censis-Michelin 2018 report, a commuter in Italy does about 28.8 km a day and takes 57.5 minutes. A precious time, stolen from sleep or other occupations such as physical activity, key to metabolic, cardiovascular and oncological prevention. An Australian study associates commuting in the car with the tendency to increase weight, even among sportsmen.

If the travel time is wasted for some time, for others, between e-mails and phone calls, is working time that the Censis quantifies in one more month of work a year. Yet, occupational doctors denounce, “we continue to consider only what happens within the company, which leads to neglect another crucial aspect: as emerges from our work, for example, the combination of commuting and work on shifts, still mainly male, has a great impact on the body”.


The problems of “agile work”

Smart working, which according to the Milan Polytechnic Observatory has jumped forward by 14% in 2017, not always the right solution. It’s not always the right solution, especially for those who are in the company and have the protection of an employee. Freelancers, on the other hand, end up with a constant overlap between personal and work time and space coordinates, the so-called Time Porosity. The so-called “agile work” opens here to a whole series of other disorders, such as alienation due to the fact that you are always alone with your things to do and the “burn out”, that condition in which you can no longer distinguish personal time from work and you end up “never disconnect”, going against a short circuit from super work.


The specialist’s comment

“Being a commuter means that someone spends from 2 to 4 or more hours a day by train or on the means of transport that take him to work – said Professor Lucini – and here it is easy to understand how the problem returns to be that of sedentariness. In addition to all the postural symptoms related to the fact of being many hours in a forced position, standing or sitting, perhaps in the presence of strong air conditioning. Commuting is certainly an enemy of health because it is an enemy of physical activity, which takes away precious time and often difficult to find at other times, healthy eating, because it pushes us to eat more often and quickly, and sleep, because it alters our schedules and delays the time to go to bed in the evening or forces us to get up too early”.

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