How to survive your daily car commute (literally!)
For those of us who drive to work, the commute is widely acknowledged as a source of stress. Certainly few would claim to enjoy it! Unfortunately, stress isn't all we have to worry about. Commuting has been linked to a bunch of other negative health outcomes: insomnia and restless sleep, unhealthy weight gain and even a lowering of life expectancy. Crumbs.
Of course, it would be wonderful if we could all find ways to skip the daily grind behind the wheel, such as working from home, moving within walking or cycling distance or taking public transport, yet in many cases, needs must.
With this in mind, we've put together a useful list of tips and tricks for minimising the unhealthy effects of your car commute. Firstly, an especially important lesson on how to minimise the level of pollution that builds up inside your car...
Adjust your ventilation to avoid toxic traffic fumes
Air pollution is at its most harmful when we get stuck at traffic lights or in a jam - when stuck, we're likely to breathe around 29 times more nasties than when we're travelling in a moving car.
When forced to stop for any length of time, you can reduce your exposure to air pollution by closing all the windows and switching the interior fan off. If the fan or heater needs to be on for comfort, use the 'recirculate' setting. Researchers found that these simple habits reduced dangerous particles in the air inside the car by up to 76%. Tell your friends!
Get comfy in the driving seat
A misaligned, slouchy or 'tense' driving position creates pressure on the body, which can bring on aches and pains such as foot cramps, lower back pain, stiff necks and sore shoulders. These are so common amongst frequent drivers that collectively they're now known as Repetitive Driving Injury (RDI).
Next time you jump in the car, take a few moments to check your seat position. Scoot your bum against the back of the seat and sit in a neutral position.
>> Raise the seat so your horizontal gaze is at least 3 inches above the steering wheel and you have good all around visibility.
>> Are your upper back and neck supported? If not, move the back support and head rest to a more upright position.
>> Can you reach the controls easily? Can you push the pedals using the whole range of your foot, not just your toes? Move the seat forward until you can.
>> Is the steering wheel too high or too low? Make sure your arms are comfortable and it's high enough so you're not bumping your knees when operating the pedals.
>> Do you have to crane your neck to see the mirrors? Turn the mirrors so you can view them at a glance.
>> Is the seat belt comfortable? Tweak its height until the strap sits across your collar bone.
Work out that stress
Stuck in a jam? Stretching your neck and back muscles will help you avoid RDI and alleviate some of the annoyance you may be feeling.
>> Facing forward, lower your right ear towards your right shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch in the left side of your neck. Try to hold this for 10 seconds then repeat on the other side.
>> Holding the steering wheel at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, gently push away from the wheel whilst rounding your back. You should feel a stretch across your shoulder blades and upper back.
>> Remove your right hand from the wheel and circle your wrist a few times in both directions. Replace your hand on the wheel and repeat with the other hand.
Other simple solutions to relieve unhealthy stress
>> Download some intriguing podcasts and audiobooks and listen as you drive. Digging into some engaging stories will make the commute fly by.
>> Share the commute and cut costs by carpooling to work. You'll have someone to commiserate with you as the traffic snarls up around you. Take turns to drive each other if possible, so both of you get a chance to relax.
>> Could you tweak your working hours to avoid the worst of rush hour? If you'd prefer to be an early bird or a late-morning starter and your boss is amenable, this could be a winning move for your health.