The road to the office is rarely a short one — just ask anyone who commutes by car to work. Popular roadways become congested, and traffic slows to a crawl. Solo drivers may also find themselves bored and uncomfortable behind the wheel for long lengths of time.
If this image resonates with you, you are not alone. In fact, 78 percent of commuters in this country drive to work solo and do so for a big chunk of time each week. It’s even worse in major cities like Washington D.C. or Los Angeles where yearly delays can keep drivers behind the wheel for an extra 80 or more hours.
Unfortunately, time isn’t the only thing on the line when it comes to long commutes — they can also take a toll on your health. Below are four issues that can be traced back to commuting, among other potential sources:
1. Carpal Tunnel
When it comes to the causes of carpal tunnel, you have your usual suspects: cell phones, computer keyboards, video games and anything that requires you to move your fingers and wrists in small, repetitive motions. What’s another repetitive motion? Gripping and turning your steering wheel, especially if you’re behind it for hours every day.
Though your commute can lead to this uncomfortable syndrome, there are ways to prevent or lessen the pain it causes. For one, be aware of your hand, wrist and arm position as you steer. Your hand should be aligned with your elbow, and your wrists should stay straight as you drive.
You can also switch the hand you use to steer so neither hand is overworked and will, therefore, be less likely to develop carpal tunnel. Finally, if you’re answering your cell while on the road, this can exacerbate carpal tunnel as you curve your wrist around the device. Invest in a headset or built-in system for answering calls via your phone’s speakers.
2. Weight Gain
A bad driver or a pocket of unexpected traffic can certainly get your heart racing as you drive to work, but your time spent behind the wheel doesn’t quite count as a workout. In fact, sitting and driving to work has been linked to weight gain. The longer you’re driving means the longer you are sitting — and the more likely you are to have those extra pounds pile up.
To negate the effects of your commute, be sure to work exercise into your daily routine to really sweat it out.
It’s no surprise that a long commute can cause you stress — every worker has felt stress in one way or another while traveling to of from work. What may come as more of a shock is just how much of an effect that stress can have on your health. Sure, stress makes you feel uneasy, but it also has its hand in mental health issues, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, obesity and gastrointestinal issues.
To reduce your stress while commuting, try and find a route or time of day that comes with less traffic and less time behind the wheel. If that’s not possible, perhaps you can work with your boss to create a telecommuting schedule so you don’t have to fight your way to the office every single day.
4. Bodily Aches and Pains
Commuting hassles can also manifest themselves in physical pain if you’re behind the wheel for a while. Many adults suffer from back pain whether or not they’re commuters, but spending hours driving doesn’t do much to remedy the situation. That’s because most people end up slumping as they get tired or bored on the road.
Next time you’re caught in traffic, try and ease your back and neck pain by sitting up straight and aligning your head over your shoulders. You could even try a few exercises in your car to help — you just may need to be at a complete stop for some. Investing in padding that gives your back extra support as you drive along might be beneficial as well.
How to Fix It
Unfortunately, these side effects of commuting might be hard to fix unless you can change your route, mode or time of transit. However, even adjusting your driving manner may help. Aggressive actions like tailgating and ignoring merge-lane stop signs can cause traffic to pile up.
At the end of the day, though, it’s important to remember that it’s just a drive. Take a deep breath, turn up some good music and try and enjoy a bit of alone time as you make the trek to or from work.