India, with its sprawling population of over 1.3 billion people, has one of the most complex and robust public transportation systems in the world. Our daily commutes, from the bustling streets of Mumbai to the traffic-clogged roads of Bengaluru, make up a significant portion of our routines. However, have you ever considered what your daily commute does to your health, particularly your mental wellness?
The Burden of the Indian Commute
As per the Boston Consulting Group's 2018 report, commuters in four major Indian cities, namely Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata, spend an average of 1.5 hours more on their daily commutes than their counterparts in other Asian cities. That translates to an additional 22 days a year, which we spend merely navigating the complexities of our roads.
The Psychological Impact
A study published in The Lancet Public Health journal in 2020 indicated a direct correlation between longer commuting times and an increased risk of mental health problems. The daily grind of commuting, characterized by crowded public transport, traffic jams, noise pollution, and more, adds to our daily stress levels.
A closer look at the World Health Organization's World Mental Health Survey (2016) reveals that nearly 15% of Indian adults need active interventions for one or more mental health issues. While the causes are multifaceted, the strains of a long commute can undeniably exacerbate these underlying conditions.
Physical Health Implications
Long hours spent sitting in traffic or on public transportation contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. The Indian Heart Association has raised concerns that sedentary behaviour contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which already affect nearly 54.5 million Indians as of 2016 data.
Mitigating the Impact
Thankfully, all is not lost. There are strategies that can help mitigate these effects:
Active Commuting: Walking or cycling to work, where feasible, can reduce stress and contribute to daily exercise goals. The Ministry of Urban Development's Smart Cities Mission is investing in pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, offering a promising step in this direction.
Flexible Working Hours or Remote Work: More companies are recognizing the health impacts of long commutes and are offering flexible work arrangements. According to a 2022 study by 'We Work Remotely', nearly 74% of Indian companies surveyed are considering a permanent shift to flexible or remote work.
Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness during the commute can help combat stress. Breathing exercises, listening to calming music, or enjoying an audiobook can transform commute time into a more positive experience.
Closer to home jobs: With the proliferation of co-working spaces and the boom in startups, job opportunities are becoming increasingly decentralized. Cities like Pune, Hyderabad, and Jaipur are emerging as new hubs for IT, creative industries, and business services, increasing the possibility of finding jobs within a more manageable distance from home. Additionally, the digital age has opened up numerous opportunities for freelance and part-time work that can be done from home or nearby co-working spaces.
Your daily commute in India, just like a million other things, is a complex dance of resilience and patience. While its impacts on health and mental wellness are significant, acknowledgement of the problem and adoption of some mitigation strategies can make it a less strenuous aspect of our lives. As the nation takes strides in improving urban infrastructure, commuting patterns, and work norms, the hope for a healthier commuting future is indeed strong.