Five Ways Our Commutes Are Killing Us

New Yorkers aren't the only people whose subway commutes are killing them.

A new report shows that the number of delayed trains on the world's seventh busiest underground system has more than tripled in just five years, part of a nationwide trend of commutes that are ruining our health, eating our wages and just slowing us down too much.

Here are five health risks associated with just getting to work every day:

1. Time lost

Subway delays are the most obvious problem for New York City residents, whose commute times have “increased dramatically,” according to a study released this month by the New York City Independent Budget Office, which said there have been 67,450 delays in May of this year, up from an average of 20,000 delays per month in 2012.

“That the magnitude of subway delays is getting worse is not just a matter of perception,” the study states.

It's not just New York. Americans' commute time is growing across the board. The average commute took 26.4 minutes in 2015, 24 seconds more than the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Census's American Community Survey.

On roads, longer commute times correlate with an increase in solo cars and a decrease in carpooling since the 1980s, Adie Tomer, an infrastructure researcher at the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post

And it usually isn't your employer’s time, but yours, that the commute is eating up.

“In many offices, workers may just stay later, in order to make up the time lost in the morning. As long as the necessary work is completed, the employer has lost little, if anything,” the budget office's study states. “But employees have given up some of their nonwork time, usually without compensation.”

That means less time in your personal life for healthy activities like exercising.

"Waiting what sometimes feels like interminable for the subway can add to the stress of your day," Doug Turetski, spokesman for the independent budget office, told Newsweek. "The more stressed you are, the more it can affect your physical health and well-being."

2. Stress

Stress from your commute can cause disease from changes in the body or bad habits like smoking and overeating that people use to deal. A 2004 study by Cornell University and Polytechnic University professors found that longer journeys on the subway from New Jersey to Manhattan correlated with higher levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, in commuters' saliva. The subjects had more difficulty proofreading, the task assigned to them post-transit.

When stress sticks for an extended period of time, it is even more damaging, leading to fatigue and chronic diseases

3. Pollution

Vehicle fumes fill the air with pollution particles that the World Health Organization linked to 7 million premature deaths in 2012, which was one in every eight people who died that year. Exposure to air pollution has also been shown to lead to asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease and early birth or low-weight newborns. 

Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution in their third trimester could be twice as prone to birthing a child with autism, a Harvard study found.

Commuting by train is cleaner, but subway delays can also incentivize more commuters to grab a cab or take an Uber, which an increasing number of New Yorkers are hailing, The New York Times reported.

4. Sleep deprivation 

Each minute spent commuting translates into a 0.2205-minute reduction in sleep time, according to a study using data from the American Time Use survey.

Another study surveyed Long Island Rail Road commuters and found that commuting long distances negatively impacted their ability to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. People whose commutes were longer than 75 minutes reported sleeping an average of 97 minutes more on weekends than weekdays, and napped during their commute more often than those who spent 45 minutes or less getting to work.

Lack of sleep in the short term can impair mood, judgment, the ability to absorb and retain information and raises the risk of injury and accidents. Chronic sleep deprivation can cause cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and lead to an early death. 

5. Relationship problems

A long commute can also wreak havoc on your personal relationships, particularly your love life. 

If one spouse has a commute longer than 45 minutes, the couple is 40 percent more likely to get divorced, according to an article by Umea University's Erika Sandow published in SAGE Journals.

Time spent on the road or rail also leaves less time to work on relationships with family members and friends, potentially leading to people drifting apart and becoming increasingly lonely. 

Researchers have found that loneliness, social isolation and living alone all significantly impact a person's risk of premature death, equal to or beyond the effect of obesity.

“There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase [the] risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.

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