driving stress

Research suggests that driving for long hours elicits a stress response over time, leading to studies examining the impact of driving stress on health.

An active heart is a healthy heart, and with heart disease as the leading cause of death globally, it is more important than ever to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Australian researchers conducted a secondary data analysis to determine whether driving elicits an acute physiological stress response and recently published the results in the journal, PLOS One. The team reviewed past studies that sought to discover a relationship between prolonged automobile driving and cardiovascular health. Understanding the impact of driving stress on bodily functions and heart health is crucial in our car-dependent society where extended driving is common.

For a systematic review of previous literature, only eligible studies containing the following criteria were used: the study investigated driving or aspects of driving as the exposure variable, assessed at least one physiological outcome in adults (18 years of age or older), and included a control or comparison condition. To gather as much data as possible, there were no restrictions regarding the research design, study location, sample size, date of publication or duration of the driving intervention.

A total of 27,295 research abstracts were screened during March 2016, and seven articles were selected that met all previously mentioned criteria. Of the seven articles chosen, five examined physiological responses to driving and two aimed to determine the physiological stress response to a designated stressful driving task.

The studies showed moderate evidence that acute physiological stresses could occur for extended on-road driving.  All seven studies suggested a significant change in at least one physiological outcome in particular and the most common was for an increase in stress hormones present in urine. Although seven articles were chosen for the summary, it is still too small a number of studies to draw more substantial conclusions or make generalizations about everyday car drivers.

This is the first review to examine the impact of driving on stress levels, and the results strongly indicate that more studies are needed to draw firm conclusions. Future studies can benefit from this data review by expanding their subject variables (e.g. age, race, gender) and creating more studies to understand the long-term implications of driving stress on health.


Written by Cooper Powers, BSc

Antoun, Edwards, Sweeting et al. (2016). The acute physiological stress response to driving: A systematic review. PLOS One. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185517

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