Work From Home, Save Your Heart

Too much commuting can be a strain on your heart.

January 25, 2012

The time you spend sitting during your daily commute could hurt your heart, according to a study published this month in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. Those who watch TV and endure a long commute are even more at risk for cardiovascular disease.

THE DETAILS: Researchers used data on nearly 7,750 men and studied the relationships between watching TV or time spent riding in a car and death from cardiovascular disease over a 21-year time span. They found that men who spent more than 10 hours a week riding in a car or more than 23 hours a week of combined car riding and TV watching were significantly more likely to have died from cardiovascular disease than those who spent less time sitting still. While this specific study did not look at women's health compared to their time spent sitting, other studies have clearly found that being more active and spending less time in a seat improves your overall health.


WHAT IT MEANS: There have been many studies finding that watching too much TV can make us fat, depressed, stressed, and more unhealthy than people who spend more times up and outdoors. But the commute component of this new study adds evidence that routine commuting can add to the unhealthy effects of being a couch potato. This study focused on the inactive time you spend in the car during commutes, but we also know that vehicle exhaust contributes to air pollution and breathing problems. And a German study published last year found that being stuck in traffic triples your heart attack risk.

In a perfect world, we could all bike-commute to work every day. (Next week is National Bike to Work Week, by the way.) But since that's not possible for everyone, it might be in your best interest to explore other options that could boost your productivity, improve your health, reduce pollution, and save your company money.

Here's how to work from home:

• Know Your Policy. Between 2006 and 2008, the number of employee telecommuters in the United States increased by nearly 40 percent. With about 17 million people working from home, your company may already have a telecommuting policy in place that you don't even know about. Check with your human resources department to see, and if there is a policy, make sure you read through it before making any proposals to your boss, suggests Marcia Rhodes, spokesperson for WorldatWork, a global human resources association that helps companies implement telework options. (Yes, she was working from home during this interview.)

Your company may also have informal policies, so individual managers may have the power to grant you work-from-home status. (Working two days a week from home is the average for telecommuters.)


• Know when to ask. Rhodes says you shouldn't expect to work from home when you start a new job. "You're more successful at getting it approved if you're with the company at least six months," she explains. "You already know the culture and technology by then."

• Ace The Pitch. When you ask to telecommute, start off with just a day or two a week to see how that goes, suggests Rhodes. Cite studies that show work productivity increases when working from home, but also be sure to explain steps to secure your work, too. For instance, having a home security system could prevent a burglar from stealing a laptop with important company information. If approved, tell your boss you will work with IT to make sure you work behind firewalls and avoid security problems.

• Be Honest. Working from home can be a win-win situation, saving employers money and boosting employee performance, and improving quality of life for commuting workers who may feel their work-personal life balance is way out of whack. Some employees work from home because an elderly parent is sick, or so they can spend time they'd otherwise lose to a commute with their children. If you have kids, though, Rhodes warns, you should be sure to let your boss know you have dependent care set up. Working from home doesn't mean you should spend your time babysitting.

• Be Professional In Your Pajamas. Even if you don't get dressed up to work from home, you still need to be professional. Hit deadlines, don't allow your dog to be barking in the background of important phone calls with clients, and be sure to send your boss a list of tasks accomplished either every day or week, whatever your boss prefers.

• Ask About Four 10s. Your employer may want you to be in the office every work day, but may agree to four 10-hour work days, which could reduce the time you sit during a long commute by one day a week.

• Propose Summer Hours. Contact your HR department to see if your company offers a summer hours program, and if not, ask them if they'd consider it. During the warmer summer months, employees work a little longer days on Monday through Thursday, but then leave early Friday. Even if this doesn't have an effect on your commute—except for missing rush-hour traffic—doing this improves the work-personal life balance for workers and helps companies save on air-conditioning costs during hot afternoon days.