A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Heath highlighted that 90% of the workforce – some 24 million in England and Wales – regularly commute to work, with the average commute lasting 56 minutes a day (rising to 79 minutes in London). According to the study, those with longer commutes were shown to have increased snacking habits, with less free time available to lead an active, healthy lifestyle, have decreased energy and higher illness-related work absences.
There is also increasing data to support our intuitive sense that longer commutes negatively impact our mental health, too. The UK Mental Health Foundation 2017 survey of over 2,200 people across the UK found that just 13% report living with good mental health; for 18 to 34 year olds, this falls to 7%. Across the pond, a study conducted by Canada’s University of Waterloo demonstrated that people with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life, with a higher sense of time pressure, greater stress, diminished social activities, and worry about activities being missed. In the US, cutting out a one-hour commute has been shown to produce the happiness equivalent of a $40,000 raise!
Quality not quantity
But fear not. It’s not just about how long it takes you to get to work; it’s about the quality of the commute as well. How you commute is almost as important as how long you commute. And there are signs that the ideal work commute can actually make you happier and healthier.
So what can we do to improve the quality of our commute?
By far, people report being happiest walking to work. Even those who take public transportation report that the most enjoyable part of their commute is the walk to and from the train or bus.
Sadly, most of us to not have that luxury. But a close second is cycling.
A study found that those with physically active lifestyles have a wellbeing score 32% higher than those with inactive lifestyles. Cycling combines the positives of physical exercise and being outdoors.
Manchester is a great city for cyclists, with a growing number of dedicated cycle lanes making it easier to get around town.
Keeping it above ground
If you can’t travel to work by foot or bike, the next best thing is tram or train – and those who travel by train or tram are happier than their counterparts who travel via bus. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), taking the bus to work on a trip that takes longer than 30 minutes is the travel option that is most likely to impact upon our mood in a negative way.
By avoiding the bus and making a clean exit towards the fantastic train and tram routes, you’ll get home faster and your overall happiness levels will increase.
More time to spend with friends and family
One of the greatest perks about a healthy commute to work is the surplus of time you have once you get home.
Long, stressful commutes steal quality time that could be better spent with family, friends or enjoying your own company. A study in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found that adults commuting 90 minutes or more each day had the fewest social engagements. This reduced time with friends and family subsequently contributes to lower rates of life satisfaction.
Numerous research studies have backed up the benefits of socialising for personal happiness and wellbeing. Social engagement is associated with a stronger immune system, meaning that you are better able to fight off colds and the flu, whilst connecting with friends can also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia.
So not only is a great commute helping you spend more time with your family and friends, but also it will help you live a longer and healthier life.