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Long Commute Times Linked to Increased Risk of Depression

HEALTH & MEDICINELong Commute Times Linked to Increased Risk of Depression

Long commuting time to work is significantly linked to the severity of depression symptoms – a finding confirmed by Korean scientists. People whose commute took more than an hour were more likely to show signs of depression. According to experts, the optimal situation is when the journey to work takes no more than 30 minutes and is accompanied by physical activity. The scientists targeted workers in South Korea, a country where the longest average commuting time to work coexists with the highest level of depression symptoms among OECD countries.

“We have found that the more time a person spends commuting to work, the more symptoms of depression they show. The link between long commutes and depression was particularly visible among unmarried men, childless men, men working long hours per day, women with multiple children, and shift workers” – said Dong-Wook Lee, a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine from Inha University Hospital in Incheon, South Korea, in an interview with the Newseria Innowacje agency.

Based on data from the Korean Working Conditions Survey, in which nearly 23.5 thousand workers aged between 20 and 59 took part, scientists analyzed the links between commuting times to work, depressive symptoms, and associated factors such as gender, age, education, income, region, marital status, having children, occupation, weekly working hours, and shift work.

“Our study results indicate that people who spend more than 60 minutes each way commuting to work daily are 1.16 times more likely to show signs of depression compared to those whose commuting time is less than 30 minutes,” pointed out Dong-Wook Lee.

These findings by the Korean researchers confirm observations made earlier in Latin America and the UK. In the first study, data from nearly 13 thousand people from 11 cities were used, while the second used data from almost 5.5 thousand participants from the British Biobank. Both found a correlation between the occurrence and severity of depressive symptoms in people with long commuting times to work.

“A long commute can be a source of both mental and physical stress. Not only does it take up time, but it also limits time that could be spent on hobbies and other activities that help relieve stress and rejuvenate the body. Our study suggests that a long commute can also lead to disruption of the work-life balance, accumulation of stress, and reduced mental resilience,” the researcher listed.

The average commuting time in South Korea is 101 minutes per day, the highest among OECD countries. For example, in Sweden, the journey to work takes on average 18 minutes, in the United States 21 minutes, in the UK 22 minutes, and in Japan – 40 minutes. According to 2019 Eurostat data, the average commuting time to work in the EU-27 is 25 minutes. In Poland, it was one minute shorter.

Experts believe that the optimal commuting time to work is up to 30 minutes. This could be beneficial for health, especially if the commute is accompanied by physical activity, even as simple as a walk through the park. However, this isn’t always possible.

“In Korea, due to extreme weather conditions, outdoor activity is not always feasible. Ideally, if conditions allow, commuting can be a beneficial physical activity for mental health, as long as the benefits outweigh the stress related to commuting. However, in Korea, the negative effects of very long commuting times outweigh its positive aspects,” emphasized the doctor.

The scientist also cited data that South Korea is also known as the country with the highest prevalence of depression among OECD countries. According to the WHO, it is the most severe mental health problem worldwide. It affects 3.8 percent of the entire population, or approximately 280 million people.

The observations made by the researchers generate proposals for infrastructure managers and employers.

“Reducing commuting time is a key goal that can be achieved through improvements like enhancing public transportation and strategies related to the distribution of workplaces and residential areas nearby. Remote work is another possibility, although it also affects health. Other important measures include strategies that support balancing work and family life, especially for women, who often combine work with family duties,” listed Dong-Wook Lee.

A study, “Poles on commuting to work,” conducted by LeasingTeam Group, found that for over 80 percent of workers, commuting to the workplace is of crucial importance and affects the decision to accept a job offer. More than half admit that they would start looking for a new employer if there was a sudden change in commuting conditions, caused by things such as relocating the company’s office, long-term roadwork, or changes to the frequency of public transport. One in five would do so without hesitation.

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