ROCKLIN, CA — Some commuters are more stressed out than a fighter pilot going into battle, according to a study funded by Hewlett Packard and released on February 15.
The company was researching how stressful commutes affected employee productivity. Study results found that drivers experience dangerous surges in stress hormones when the going gets tough, Sacramento television station KCRA reported. The station put one Rocklin resident to the stress test and learned that time in traffic can add up to a deadly, daily grind.
Each day, Mark Cheap pays the price for life in Rocklin with a morning commute to Sacramento. The trip can take up to an hour. For the volunteer stress test, he wore a heart and blood pressure monitor. "These provide us with continuous electrocardiogram information," said cardiologist Dr. Robert Schott. Riding along in the back seat, Schott used the information to monitor Cheap's stress.
"Typically, it doesn't really bother me that much. I just get in traffic, get in the flow, turn up the music loud and just go," Cheap said. But what many commuters don't know is they can't feel high blood pressure. "You're always expecting somebody to cut in front of you or slam on their brakes really fast. You're constantly thinking about your next move," Cheap said.
When Cheap leaves his driveway, his blood pressure is near his normal-but-high reading. On Highway 65, the doctor said he saw a bit of rise. But it was not until Cheap got on Interstate 80, where traffic came to a standstill, that the doctor sees Cheap's heartbeat jump 15 beats per minute, and his blood pressure jump a full 40 systolic points. "Even though overtly he didn't appear angry, stressed or upset, no particular traffic incidence, his blood pressure did rise," Schott said.
That rise in pressure for some commuters can be risky, since the rate of stroke and heart attack is already highest in the morning. "If your blood pressure is going up 40 points on a typical morning commute, you want to know this. You want to take measures to relieve that stress in your life," Schott said.
Experts say commuters can ease their stress several different ways:
Get ready the night before by laying out clothes and other necessities.
Commute off peak times if possible.
Check commuter traffic reports for delays.
Exercise regularly. A strong heart naturally lowers blood pressure.
While high blood pressure is a risk of the commute, Schott said another risk is obesity. Drivers who spend hours commuting each day have less time to go to the gym or on a walk. The doctor said making time to exercise will help commuters cope with daily stress and give them better overall health.