A Long Drive to the Green: The Cost of Commuting

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Like sending a small, white Titleist above the fairway so far you can’t see it, the toll of a career spent commuting can cause unforeseen problems down the road.

You’ll get to the green all right, once you get past the speed bumps, toll roads, gas,k and wear and tear on the car. But the cost that really adds up is the emotional and physical toll on your body.

According to the U.S. government census, the average American commute time is 25.7 minutes. And that’s just one way. So what’s wrong with 51.4 minutes on the road five times a week?

Plenty, says Carolyn Kylstra in a a Time magazine article called “10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body.”

Crushing the Driver

Some of the most harmful byproducts of commuting, according to Kylstra:

  • Higher blood pressure: Long commutes are shown to raise blood pressure, both temporarily and long-term. A University of Utah study that simulated driving showed that intense rush hour traffic causes blood pressure to spike, in addition to the uptick in hypertension over time.
  • Rise in blood sugar: Driving more than 10 miles each way, to and from work, is associated with higher blood sugar, based on a University of St. Louis study. It raises the threat of diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions for the driver.
  • Higher cholesterol: A rise in cholesterol raises the chances you may be battling heart disease later. And like blood sugar, cholesterol levels rise with commutes of 10 miles or above, says the study.
  • Back pain: Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, backaches are common for commuters. Posture is compromised, leading to a maladjusted spine, a condition your chiropractor can help you improve.

Getting Up to Par with Chiropractic

Your local chiropractor can address many of the symptoms that set in after years of long commutes in the car. Hands-on adjustment of the spine, called spinal manipulation, is a good treatment for these issues, according to a National Institutes of Health article. The first step will be for your chiropractic professional to get a health history from you, which may include:

  • Past injuries and illnesses
  • Current health problems
  • Any medicines you are taking
  • Lifestyle
  • Diet
  • Sleep habits
  • Exercise
  • Mental stresses you might have
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco

Adjusting the Driver

Dr. Louise Chang writes for WebMD about a chiropractic technique proving successful for patients who have high blood pressure. The “Atlas Adjustment” was utilized on 25 patients at the University of Chicago Hypertension Center, where researchers found it was the equivalent of not just one, but two blood-pressure medications given in combination.

“When the statistician brought me the data, I actually didn’t believe it. It was way too good to be true,” says study leader George Bakris in the report, which appeared in the Journal of Human Hypertension. “The statistician said, ‘I don’t even believe it.’ But we checked for everything, and there it was.”

None of the participating patients took blood pressure medicine during the study, and after administering the procedure for eight weeks, all 25 patients who underwent the chiropractic Atlas Adjustment had significantly lower blood pressure.

The procedure involves adjustment of the C-1 vertebra, sometimes called the Atlas vertebra because it holds up the head. Marshall Dickholtz Sr., D.C., who performed the adjustments for the study, calls the C-1 vertebra “the fuse box to the body.”


Chiropractic for the Back Nine

Spinal manipulation and other alternative chiropractic treatments provide relief for the backs of commuters, says a WebMD article about the advantage of chiropractic care for back pain. The majority of patients seeking back pain relief alternatives seek out a chiropractor. About 35 percent of the 22 million Americans who visit chiropractors annually are seeking help with back pain.

“Chiropractic is primarily used as a pain relief alternative for muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissue, such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons,” says the article. “It is sometimes used in conjunction with conventional medical treatment.”

Adjusting Your Mood Swing

The same way a bad swing can result in a mood swing, a long commute can bring you down. Commuters report that the daily drive is one of the least enjoyable activities in their lives, says Marlynn Wei, M.D., a New York City psychiatrist, in an article for Psychology Today. She refers to it as “the stress that doesn’t pay.”

“Longer commutes are systematically associated with lower rates of well-being,” Dr. Wei says. “Mindless commuting is a recipe for boredom, frustration, or simply lost time that you could otherwise be spending doing something enjoyable.”

One way to counteract the boredom and lost time, as Wei puts it, is to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, music or books, periodicals and tablets, if your commute is by train or car pool.

One alternative fights the battle of the bulge while addressing some of the mental drawbacks of the long rides — active commuting. If you can trade your car for a bike or walk to work, it’s likely to improve your experience getting to the job.

A problem that neither of those alternatives can solve, however, is the lost time for relationships. 

“Over three-fourths of Americans drive alone to work,” Wei says. “One study found that automobile commuting led to decreased available time with spouses, family and friends. For men, a one hour increase in commute time led to a 21.8-minute decrease in time spent with the spouse, 18.6-minute decrease in time with children, and 7.2-minute decrease in time with friends. For women, a one hour increase in their commute led to 11.9-minute decrease in time spent with friends.”


If the stress isn’t enough, you can always look at your monetary loss due to commute times, a number that’s steadily increased since the 1980s, says Wei. Commuting causes waste in terms of time, money and fuel, a total of $121 billion in 2011.

But throwing money into the toll booth is relatively painless, when you compare it with a scorecard of commute costs to your physical and emotional self. And like golf, it’s a game where lowest score wins.


IMG 0106 by Daniel Olnes is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Lexus RX 2016 by Karlis Dambrans is licensed under CC BY 4.0

 Scientist At Work by Garry Knight is licensed under CC BY 4.0

This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.