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Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness and metabolic risk


Traffic congestion (iStock)Traffic congestion (iStock)Traffic congestion (iStock)

Getting the right amount of rest is essential for health, but sometimes leisure can have its own risks. According to a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, under certain circumstances inactivity can have negative consequences.

The study, “Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Metabolic Risk,” followed nearly 4,300 Texas adults who commuted to work by car between 2000 and 2007. Participants were referred by their personal physicians, and those in poor health were excluded from the study. Data gathered included participants’ BMI, cholesterol, blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fıtness (CRF), as well as the distance they drove from home to work.

Findings included:

  • The longer participants’ drives, the less they exercised and the lower their cardiorespiratory fıtness, while BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure all increased. Analysis of the data suggested that the declines in CRF and physical activity explain a significant amount of variation in BMI and waist circumference.
  • A one-way commute of 10 miles or more was associated with higher odds of elevated triglycerides and blood glucose levels and reduced HDL cholesterol.
  • Commuting 15 miles or more was associated with lower odds of meeting physical activity recommendations and higher odds of obesity.
  • Even when researchers adjusted for participants’ levels of physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness, both waist circumference and BMI increased with commuting distance.

“Daily commuting represents a source of chronic stress that has been correlated positively with physiologic consequences including high blood pressure, self-reported tension, fatigue, and other negative mental or physical health effects in some studies,” the researchers note. Other factors related to commuting distance that could impact health include “worse diet, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, or social isolation.”

Tags: cars, driving, commuting, congestion, stress

    Writer: | Last updated: May 21, 2012

    Citation: Hoehner, C. M.; Barlow, C. E.; Allen P.; Schootman M. "Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Metabolic Risk," American Journal of Preventive Medicine, June 2012, Vol. 42, Issue 6, 571–578. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.02.020.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related New York Times article titled "Hitting the Road to Get to Work, and Back."

    1. What key insights from the study should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?

    Study analysis

    Read the full study titled "Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Metabolic Risk."

    1. What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
    2. Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
    3. What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
    4. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
    5. How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.

    Newswriting and digital reporting assignments

    1. Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
    4. Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
    5. Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
    6. Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.

    Class discussion questions

    1. What is the study’s most important finding?
    2. Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
    3. What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
    4. How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
    5. How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
    6. What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?