The average American commute is over 26 minutes each way, totalling 52 minutes per day or 4 hours and 20 minutes in a five-day work week. Many commutes are far longer, with some people spending 8 to 10 hours each week to get to and from work. Over the course of a year, commuting can claim 200 to 400 hours, or 1 to 2 weeks of your life.
With numbers like that, the obvious question is how to make those minutes, hours, and weeks quality time for your mental and physical health. First, be assured that this is possible. Next, here are some ways to make your commute, and other forced "down" times, better for weight, heart health, and blood sugar.
In the Car
What can you do for your health when you are strapped into your seat in the car twice a day for your commute? A lot! You can bend and unbend your non-driving leg and your arms, one at a time, when it is safe to do so. Shoulder shrugs, foot circles, and wiggling your hips back and forth may sound small, but they add up. Clenching and unclenching muscles, one after the other, allows you to get in a bit of a workout without actually moving in the cramped space of the car. You have a little more flexibility to cut loose if you are a passenger in a carpool instead of the driver since you do not have to watch the road, hold the steering wheel, or put your foot on the pedals.
Along with moving as you can and clenching and unclenching each muscle that you can think of, you can use your mind. Did you know that simply visualizing movements that you would like to be doing, say, bicep curls or seated rows, can improve your strength? Athletes with injuries can use mental imagery like this to reduce loss of strength as they heal . The biggest benefits of mental imagery or visualization come when you also train, so be sure to keep up your workouts when you can, too!
Taking public transportation almost guarantees that you will move more than driving a car without needing to think about it. The table shows why.
Walk to your garage or in front of your home to get to the car.
Walk a block or several to get on the bus, subway, or train.
Get in the car.
Walk through the station to wait for the vehicle.
Put bags down.
Stay in the car until you get to work.
Possible transfers require walking.
Park in the parking lot of work.
Get off a block or several away from work, and walk in.
You always have the option of standing when using public transit, the entire way for short commutes, or periodically during longer commutes. Since there is no need to watch the road, you can move your arms, legs, and head as often and as much as you please.
Bike or Walk
Walking if work is a short distance away, or biking for medium-length commutes, can have all sorts of advantages. It can be a way to start and finish the day with less stress, a clear head, and good energy. It saves the environment, and it sets a good example for others. It also serves as your exercise for the day.
There are many barriers to biking and walking to work, but they are often surmountable if you really want to do so.
If showers are not available at work, there may be a nearby gym to use (do not forget to ask your employer to help cover membership costs!).
If time is an issue, remember that you are doubling up your workout and your commute.
If work is simply too far away from your home, consider splitting it up by driving or taking public transit partway, then walking or biking - on your own bike or on an increasingly-available rideshare bike sponsored by the city - the rest of the way. There is always the option of getting to work, then walking a bit before going in.
A NEAT Way to Lose Weight
Have you met people who have no trouble controlling their weight? Their weight stays stable, through vacations, holidays, and other high-caloric periods, without effort. Ask them, and they may be honest when they tell you they do not know why or how it happens.
Science may have an explanation, though. Some people naturally have a lot of non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis, or NEAT. When they eat extra, they move more. Their movements may seem useless, such as bouncing one leg or tapping fingers while sitting, but they are actually burning calories.
If you are not naturally gifted with a high amount of NEAT, you can try your own conscious version. It is called fidgeting. The idea is to always be moving, such as shifting weight around while standing or moving a limb while sitting. This can help you lose weight and prevent sedentary time from being as impactful.
Act the Part
Acting the part can increase your chances of carrying out your intentions to move more. Dressing in tight clothes compared to baggy clothes can make you feel more like moving. And, listening to workout music in the car or while on public transit can get you pumped up to move when you can.
Commuting can be an unfortunate part of life, but there are ways to make commuting better for your mind and body. Moving whenever you can can improve your mood, productivity, and health, so give it a try next time you hit the road!
Slimani M, Tod D, Chaabene H, Miarka B, Chamari K. Effects of Mental Imagery on Muscular Strength in Healthy and Patient Participants: A Systematic Review. J Sports Sci Med. 2016;15(3):434–450. Published 2016 Aug 5.
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