It is not the commute which makes the person, but rather the person who makes the commute
I always swore, during the teenage years I spent obsessively visualizing my eventual career, that I wouldn’t drive for more than one hour to reach a job. The solution seemed simple: once I got a job, I would move to an apartment close by, and find myself leisurely walking or bicycling into the office every morning.
I currently find myself facing a whole new set of challenges, thoughts, and considerations as I commute for my career. Each day, I travel between Kitchener and Burlington, Ontario. It takes a little over an hour. I take back roads, scurrying down Highway 8 and then looping onto Highway 5, taking random side roads which allow me to avoid construction areas and the related delays.
We have all been well-versed in the dangers of sitting in front of a computer all day long. We also know that getting into your car in the morning, working at a computer all day, and then coming home by car to watch T.V. is almost akin to the combined negative health impacts of smoking, drinking, and eating fatty foods – even if you exercise (Ubelacker, 2015). Doctor’s recommend stop-gap measures to combat our culture of sitting; like encouraging people to stand while talking on the phone or eating lunch, trying a standing desk, walk laps with colleagues rather than gathering in a conference room (Mayo Clinic, 2015).
These could be termed as the chronic, long-term health impacts of sedentary commuting for a career. But there are also the short-term health impacts. Driving down the highway at 80 kilometers an hour, with people who are anxious, eager, and sometimes mentally distracted, I know that collisions can happen. I have already seen a car in the ditch on a clear, sunny day with no clear explanation as to how they ended up there. I know that as our Canadian winter approaches, such risks only increase in statistical likelihood.
Driving down the highway at 80 kilometers an hour, with people who are anxious, eager, and sometimes mentally distracted, I know that collisions can happen
The economic and well-being costs of commuting have been well-documented in the literature, but a 2011 study by Swedish researchers does shed some light on a few important facts to keep in mind about commuting (Jaffe, 2011). First, people who drive or take public transit for more than an hour to work can rank as healthier when compared to those who commuted for half an hour (Jaffe, 2011). This could be because they are more likely to be navigating through tranquil countryside, rather than congested city streets (Jaffe, 2011). I have found this to be very true in my daily commute through the rural roads along the highways.
Second, the researchers remind us that it is not the commute which makes the person, but rather the person who makes the commute. That is to say – people who are physically and psychologically fit are able to withstand the rigors of commuting in the long-term (Jaffe, 2011). This leaves everyone who has no choice but to commute into their chosen career every day with a grain of hope. Perhaps it is possible to be a healthy, well-adjusted person outside of that time spent in the car or in public transit.
Of course, commuting by car and even public transit is an underlying problem above and beyond its negative health impacts for humans. Many of our environmental problems are based solely on the division between our work spaces and our living places – we buy multiple cars, we construct roads and infrastructure, and we consume large amounts of energy. Each stage in this life-cycle of a commuter society has spin-off environmental impacts.
If everyone were to be able to make a living in his or her own backyard, what a beautiful and simple world that would be! In my mind, I continue to return to my earliest visions of my life-career balance, with the hope that I will be shortening my commute time in the very near future.