Is your commute affecting your health?

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A number of medical problems are common among commuters. Rebecca Spera reports. (KTRK)

Get behind the wheel during rush hour in Houston, and you quickly realize you won't be getting anywhere fast, but we wanted proof to back it up. So, we asked Alan Pisarski, author of Commuting in America to do some research for us.

He found that in 2005, there were 2.4 million commuters in Houston. Just last year, that number jumped to 3.1 million.

With more time at work and behind the wheel, and less time being active, Houstonians, like Lisa Moberg, are quickly learning that their bodies are now taking the toll.

Moberg is a single mom with a 35-mile commute. While she gets off work between 5pm and 5:30pm, one of her high-stress moments of the day is picking up her daughter on time, and that doesn't happen often.

"I'm generally paying a late fee, which is financially straining because I make enough to support us, but that's all I make," said Moberg.

She, like many in the Houston area, spends two to three hours a day sitting in Houston traffic. In fact, according to researcher Alan Pisarski, Houston is well above the national average for commute lengths between 30 and 89 minutes one way.

"I wish I didn't have such a long commute, but I love my job and the people I work with, and it helps me take care of my family," adds Moberg.

Still, her daily stresses and long hours take a toll on her health. Her blood pressure is higher than ever, she doesn't sleep, and doctors want her eating healthier and exercising.

"I would love to be able to take a workout class or a yoga class, but I just don't have the time," Moberg says.

And because of all this, commuters, like Moberg, often end up in the doctor's office.

"The thing about commuting that disturbs me most as a physician is that it takes away many of the interventions to keep people healthy and to treat people without medications, like treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol with lifestyle changes," said Dr. Joshua Septimus of Houston Methodist .

Septimus says weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are the most common medical problems he sees from commuters. And unless patients make changes in their lives, "We're very limited in what people can do," he explains.

For Moberg, she's taking baby steps to a healthier life.

"Of course, the doctors want me to walk, but I can't, so I use that time to walk around the hallways," she said.

It doesn't look like our commutes or time for exercise will improve any time soon. Houston is also well below the national average for drives to work that are 20 minutes or less.

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