By Theresa Houghton
Struggling with health problems? Your long commute could be partly to blame. Spending between 61 and 90 minutes on the road – or driving more than 10 miles one way – can lead to the negative side effects of too much driving.
The Dangers of Driving Long Distances
Studies correlate long commutes with a variety of physical and mental health problems, including:
· High levels of stress and anxiety
· Elevated blood sugar
· Elevated cholesterol
· Higher risk of obesity
· Increased susceptibility to illness
· Lower sleep quality
· Lower back pain
· Increased likelihood of unhappiness and dissatisfaction
These effects of driving long hours may result from a combination of prolonged sitting, emotional reactions to being stuck in traffic and daily exposure to toxic vehicle emissions.
Traffic jams, unexpected delays, road work, detours and others’ poor driving habits have a way of bringing out the worst in people, which creates an environment of heightened stress every time you get behind the wheel. Add in the pressure to get to work on time and the known health effects of sitting too much, and it’s no wonder extended periods of driving take a toll on your body.
Combatting the Effects of Driving for Long Hours
But there’s some good news: You’re not doomed if you’re stuck with a long commute or do a lot of traveling for your job. There are steps you can take to make prolonged driving more comfortable and less hazardous to your health.
Share the Driving Responsibility
Instead of always being the one to drive to work, share driving duties with a co-worker or a friend or relative who works in the same area. A ride sharing service like Uber or Lyft is also an option to get you out of the driver’s seat. Letting someone else handle the navigation a few days a week can ease the stress of dealing with unpredictable driving conditions.
Note: Remember to follow local COVID-19 recommendations when sharing vehicles with others.
Make Your Car Comfy
Some of the dangers of driving long distances could be right inside your car. When was the last time you changed the air filters? Vacuumed the seats? Ditched the junk stuffed in the cup holder? Take a day this weekend to give your car a thorough cleaning – or have it professionally cleaned and detailed.
Once the car is all spic-and-span, add a few accessories to bump up the comfort level, such as:
· Memory foam steering wheel cover
· Seatbelt shoulder pad
· Heated ergonomic seat covers
· Neck support pillow
· Travel essential oil diffuser
When driving, make sure your hands, neck and shoulders are relaxed. Position the steering wheel to allow for a slight bend in your elbows, and adjust your mirrors to reduce strain on your head and neck. Turn on some fun tunes or an interesting audiobook (not the news!) and you’re good to go.
Add Extra Activity to Your Day
If distance and weather permit, consider ditching the car altogether and biking or riding to work instead. If you have to drive, park far enough away from your destination to allow for a quick burst of brisk walking on the way in.
· Take the stairs as much as possible
· Having standing or walking meetings
· Alternate between standing and sitting as you work
· Take mini “stretch breaks” in between tasks
Create a Better Health Routine
Although short bursts of activity are helpful, you need more if the rest of your day is largely sedentary. Add regular exercise to your routine, and choose active hobbies to keep you moving. Both will get your heart rate up and replace a few hours of sitting each day.
Be discerning about how you use the rest of your time. Give yourself a buffer when leaving the house so that you don’t feel rushed during your commute. After work, take time to de-stress and spend time with family or friends. Go to bed early enough to get a full night’s rest, and plan to make yourself a good breakfast and pack a healthy lunch when you get up so that you don’t feel the urge to get takeout.
Making even these small tweaks to create a comfortable, low-stress driving environment can help you avoid the side effects of too much driving and have a more enjoyable commute.
About the Author Theresa “Sam” Houghton is a writer, speaker and health coach from Troy, NY. She’s a regular contributor to NutritionStudies.org, and her work has appeared in the Honest Weight Food Co-Op Coop Scoop, Natural Awakenings Magazine and the NutritionFacts.org 2017 Daily Dozen calendar. She has been a featured guest on Focus on Albany, WMAC’s Food Friday and the Just Ask David podcast. When she's not writing or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, cook tasty plant-based food and knit socks. You can find out more about Sam at GreenGutWellness.com.