The worst way to get to work (plus the Canadian cities with the longest commutes)

Bike and cars

If you want to improve your wellbeing and concentration, ditch your car on workdays.

According to new research by health economists at the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), using an active form of transportation to get to work is better for your mental health than driving.

The researchers studied 18 years of data on 18,000 18-65-year-old commuters in Britain.

“In particular, active commuters felt better able to concentrate and were less under strain than if they travelled by car,” says the press release, which points out that these benefits are in addition to the fact that walking and cycling are good for one’s physical health.

This isn’t actually groundbreaking information at first glance. Exercising is better for you in every single way than sitting in traffic. This sounds pretty obvious. But wait! There’s more.

The researchers also found that taking public transit is also better for people’s psychological wellbeing than driving.


I find that shocking. I don’t drive (embarrassing but true) so I cycle or walk to work. On the few unfortunate days that I’ve been forced to take Toronto’s TTC, I have found the experience incredibly stressful. It’s crowded, people refuse to move out of the way and huddle at the front like penguins keeping warm even when there’s tons of room at the back, it’s hot, traffic is slow, and sometimes they kick everyone off because the streetcar suddenly has to short turn. I hate it.

However, according to the press release, lead researcher Adam Martin, said, “One surprising finding was that commuters reported feeling better when travelling by public transport, compared to driving. You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialise, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up.”

Lucky people. Whoever they are and whatever planet they live on. There’s no room to relax or read on my route.

Another interesting finding, said Martin, was that “the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological wellbeing. And correspondingly, people feel better when they have a longer walk to work.”

If you’re wondering, 2010 data from Statistics Canada shows that the cities with the longest average commutes to work in Canada are:

    Toronto: 33
    Montreal: 31
    Vancouver: 30
    Ottawa–Gatineau: 27
    Calgary: 26
    Edmonton: 23


And, while it’s not news that walking or cycling is better for your health, 2006 Stats Can data shows that a whopping 71% of people in Toronto are driving to work. 22.2% take public transit, and only 4.8% walk and 1% cycle. Numbers are pretty much comparable in Montreal and Vancouver.

It seems unlikely that all those drivers have no other option.

The moral of the story? Park the car and walk or bike to work if you can, even part of the way.

If that’s not possible, it seems logical to suggest that you can recoup some of that wellbeing loss by taking a walk at lunchtime or sometime during the day.


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