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How Commuting Affects Your Health ... and How to Improve It!

February 4, 2019

Do you spend over an hour commuting to work each day? Or is your travel time even crazier: two, three, or even four hours? People who have these incredible commutes are often called “supercommuters” — but there’s nothing super about sitting in a car for that length of time. 

 

Even non-supercommuters are spending nearly a half hour traveling to their jobs each day,[3] and the same (or longer) back home.  

 

Your commute might not be quite this long, but we all know that too much sitting is bad for your body, in many ways. Add travel time to hours spent sitting at a desk, at a table for meals, and on the couch in the evening, and we spend a huge chunk of our days on our derrières.

 

 

Sitting is the new smoking.

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who sit for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity risk dying younger, to the same degree as people who smoke or suffer from obesity.[4] Additionally, a study by the American Cancer Society found that people who spend prolonged periods of time sitting were 19% more likely to die sooner than those who sit less than three hours a day.[5]

 

 

Bye-bye, muscles.

Sitting too much can weaken your muscle tone and your flexibility. Certain muscle groups are more severely affected by immobility and the poor posture that often accompanies prolonged sitting, including:

  • The muscles that hold your spine in place, which causes back pain and damage to spinal structures.

  • Leg muscles, including your quads and hamstrings, which can weaken and shrink (and you may notice fat deposits increasing on your hips and thighs).

  • Glutes, which can flatten, atrophy of which also contributes to lower back pain.

  • All the abdominals, especially when compounded by poor posture.[6]

Don’t break your heart.

Since it’s American Heart Month, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that spending a lot of time on your tush can also cause damage to your ticker. Sitting is linked to spikes in triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure, which all contribute to weakening your heart and can cause heart disease. Research shows that inactivity can lead to obesity and even cancer.[4]

For most of us, there’s not much we can do about our commutes. We’ve got to get to work, and that’s that. But there are a couple of things to consider that could help counteract all that sitting and improve your heart health.

Try alternative transportation.

It’s better for the environment (less car pollution, yay!) and, generally, taking public transportation means you’ll need to walk at least a little to the train or bus stop. In some places in the country, biking (or scootering) could actuallyget you to the office faster!

Exercise when you arrive.

This might sound a bit weird, but Livestrong®[6] and WeightWatchers®[7] recommend several exercises you can actually do while sitting in your desk chair.

 

  1. Inner thighs: Hold a tennis ball between your knees, squeeze and hold for a few seconds, then slowly relax.

  2. Abs and core: Sitting with good posture is the first step. Even if that’s the only thing you do when sitting, it’s definitely beneficial. Some other exercises you can try are tightening your core and holding for a count of five, then slowly relaxing; slowly drawing your stomach in toward your spine while keeping your chest and pelvis stationary; and a pelvic tilt, pressing your lower back into the seat.

  3. Arms: Squeeze a tennis ball in your fist as hard as you can, then slowly relax. Alternate hands.

  4. Glutes: Similar to one of the core exercises, simply squeezing your bottom muscles tightly, holding for a count of five, and slowly relaxing can help get you buns of steel, even while you’re sitting on them.

 

While commuting is just a part of life for most of us, it doesn’t have to be so hard on your body.

 

 

Do you have a home office?

More and more people are telecommuting to the office, and that trend is expected to continue. While this can save you from the dreaded car commute, it’s easy to forget to get up and move when you’re in the comfort of your own home. If you regularly work from home, be sure to:

 

  • Choose a dedicated spot for your office, preferably where you can shut it behind a door.

  • Set it up like a regular office, with a desk and comfortable chair (even better if it’s a standing desk!).

  • Balance time sitting with active time.

 

Keeping your work time separate from your non-working life is critical to maintaining your productivity — and your sanity!

 

 

The information in this article is not intended to replace the care and advice of your doctor. Any trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners and are not affiliated with our company or this content.

 

Sources:

[1]  INRIX 2017 Global Traffic Scorecard

[2]  “Rise of the Super Commuters,” Apartment List, 2018

[3]  U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder, Travel Time to Work 2015, 2017

[4]  Mayo Clinic

[5]  American Cancer Society

[6]  Livestrong®

[7]  Weight Watchers®

[8]  Global Workplace Analytics

 

 

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