Is Your Morning Commute Driving You To Obesity?
New study shows that long drives to work may have health consequences
Horns are honking all around as cars nudge forward one foot each minute. The rising sun is bright in your eyes as you stress over all the things you need to get done at work today, but the office is still 20 minutes away. Meanwhile, the guy on his cellphone in the next lane over cuts you off without signaling, causing you to miss your exit and spill hot coffee all over your new work pants.
Sound familiar? This dreary morning commute is a reality for many Americans, and there’s no doubt about it: sitting in traffic on the way to work can be an incredibly frustrating and unpleasant prospect. As if the morning commute weren’t bad enough, a new study at the University of Washington in St. Louis shows that sitting in traffic every day could negatively affect your health in the form of reduced time for exercise and higher traffic-induced stress. Added to the sedentary realities of having a desk job, many of America’s office workers are at a higher risk for obesity and its numerous comorbid conditions and may not have the option of moving closer to work.
Though bariatric procedures like Lap Band may help to fight our nation’s rising obesity epidemic, studies are implicating unhealthy job habits as part of that epidemic’s cause, while at the current rate of growth 42 percent of Americans will be obese in just 18 years. If being stuck in a car for an hour round-trip each day is your only option, you must at least be aware of how it may be affecting your body, and do everything you can to ensure that you’re fitting in proper exercise throughout your day.
The study, which looked at 4,297 Texans from Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth, found that workers who face longer commute times also face higher weight, body mass index, larger waist circumference and lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, putting them at an increased risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Slogging through the travails of traffic each day was also shown to cause higher chances of chronic stress and high blood pressure, further putting commuter health in danger.
As suburbs have continued to sprawl out further in the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, commute times have gradually increased along with the spread of obesity. But obesity’s sprawl doesn’t have to continue, and ending its grip on our society starts with maintaining your own health. If you’re stuck driving long hours to and from work each day, try these tips to sneak some physical activity into your busy day.
- Flex your legs and feet. With one foot constantly minding the gas and brake pedals while driving, it’s difficult to sneak any kind of movement in. But whatever leg isn’t controlling the pedals is free to stretch and flex. Switch feet often and tap and wiggle—do whatever movement is possible as much as you can. These small movements are better than no movements and can apply to the time you spend sitting at your desk, too. You can also try some stomach toning exercises by sitting straight up and flexing your abdominal muscles.
- Take breaks often. It’s important to get up to walk, stretch or even just stay standing as often as possible. Though this most clearly applies to time spent at the office, if you have an especially long commute time, it may be a good idea to stop once along your way to get out and stretch your legs.
- Work out when you get home. If it takes you a long time to drive home from work, getting yourself motivated to exercise once you arrive may be difficult. However, if you plop down on the couch to watch TV, your chances of getting back up again for a good cardio workout are slim to none. Instead, put down your briefcase and immediately get ready for some exercise. This will ensure that you don’t procrastinate until all your workout time is gone.
- Eat properly. This is a fitness no-brainer, but its importance can’t be overemphasized. Though exercise is crucial to staying healthy, maintaining a balanced diet will help to reduce the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and ensure that you’re getting the maximum benefit from the workouts you’re able to squeeze in.