How’s that for a sensational headline? Perhaps more accurate is what Bill Briggs wrote in his MSNBC article on the topic: “…new science suggests your sluggish slog from home to work (and back again) is slowly sucking the life out of you—exit by excruciating exit.” The new science he’s referring to is a study published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that found people who commute more than 16 miles to and from work every day have higher BMIs and rates of obesity, higher blood pressure, and lower fitness levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The researchers admit that they don’t know exactly the mechanisms at work, but they suspect it’s a “perfect storm” of extended sitting, unhealthier eating (both in the car and out of it), the chronic stress of being stuck in traffic, and less free time to exercise and get enough sleep.
There is likely not a lot you can do to change your commuting distance (unless you’re looking for a new job, in which case that might be an important factor to consider), but you can be intentional about making healthier choices the rest of the day and doing what you can to make your commute less stressful. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
In the Car
Listen to books on tape or your favorite music
Practice breathing exercises (Andrew Weil has three easy ones)
Every 15 minutes or so rotate your wrists and ankles and stretch your limbs as you are able to safely to get your blood flowing a little bit
Consider carpooling with a friend
Don’t eat in the car, or at least limit your munching to healthy foods you’ve prepared ahead of time
If you take public transit, bring a fun book or magazine to read
Out of the Car
Be as active as possible at work—take the stairs, walk to your coworkers instead of emailing them, take a walk at lunch, stand up and stretch at least once an hour
Pay extra attention to your diet, making sure you get plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein, and eating small portions
Incorporate activity into your leisure time, inviting family and friends to go biking, hiking, dancing, playing Wii Fit, walking through a museum, or even joining a softball or kickball league
Get enough sleep, and build in moments of relaxation throughout your day