Hello, my cubicle carpoolers, open space cyclists, corner office car shareres, home den dawdlers, and coffee shop subway riders. My name is Brock Armstrong, and I am… not the Workplace Hero. If I am doing my job correctly, I am slowly but surely, podcast by podcast, making you into a Workplace Hero. I am simply an information super highway. Heh… remember how we used to call the internet that? No? You're probably too young. Anyway…
Today's Heroic idea came from Workplace Hero, Erin Moline, who sent me an email saying "I'm in my car a lot and with traffic so heinous that I often have to focus a lot and it can be exhausting. I have my ergonomics correct in the car, but I noticed it makes me a little frazzled." And that is exactly what I plan to do with today’s episode. Remember, my Heros, that you can suggest topics you would like me to cover by sending me a note on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or by emailing email@example.com.
Now, as much as I hate to start the podcast off with a depressing list of horrifying stats, that is exactly what I am going to do. Sorry.
But before I do that - did you know that this podcast has an email newsletter that goes along with it? It does. And you can sign up for it at wokrplacehero.me. The form is on the righthand side of the page. Rest assured, because we believe strongly in the idea of Inbox Zero, you will only receive an email once per week, and it will be short, informative and easy to delete. Best of all, just for signing up, you will receive a coupon code for 10% off at the online health and fitness store, GreenfieldFitnessSystems.com. Over there they have a staggering array of supplements, gear, clothing along with some wacky things that will help keep you healthy and fit. So sign up for the newsletter at workplacehero.me and get your discount code now.
And now, back to how commuting impacts your mental and physical health—and don't worry, I will also let you know what you can do to offset the damage.
According to a report in USA Today, the average North American's commute is 25.5 minutes each way. That's about 51 minutes per day or about 204 hours a year spent commuting. Just to put that in perspective, researchers recently found that most adults only do 17 minutes of fitness activities per day or about 103.4 hours per year. So we are only exercising for approximately half the amount of time that we are spending commuting. Ug!
The following list is from an excellent Time.com article called, 10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body, by Carolyn Kylstra.
1. Your Blood Sugar Rises Driving more than 10 miles each way, to and from work, is associated with higher blood sugar, according to a report written by researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. And as we all know, high blood glucose levels can lead to diabetes.
2. Your Cholesterol is Higher The same report in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the 10-mile one-way drives were also associated with higher cholesterol levels among commuters. This idea is similar to what we talked about in the "To Stand or Not to Stand" podcast with Katy Bowman a few weeks ago which you can find at workplacehero.me/stand
3. Your Depression Risk Rises The researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas also noted in their report that people with commutes of at least 10 miles each way have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety, and social isolation. We'll talk about how to shake that in a bit.
4. Your Anxiety Increases A newer report from the Office of National Statistics in the U.K. finds that people who commute more than half an hour to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all. Now, while there's not much most of us can do to shorten or eliminate our commute, we can make the most of it by doing something enjoyable during it… like listening to your favourite podcast. Jus' sayin'.
5. Your Happiness and Life Satisfaction Decline The same report from the U.K. found that people with commutes of any length experience lower life satisfaction and happiness than people with no commutes at all. Riding a bus for 30 minutes or longer was associated with the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness. It also resulted in the highest amount of chewing gum found stuck to the back of your pant leg when you arrive at work.
6. Your Blood Pressure Temporarily Spikes A researcher from the University of Utah set up an experiment where participants were placed in simulated driving scenarios: They were told they were late to a meeting and had a financial incentive to get to their destination quickly. Half the group was put in high-density traffic; the other half in a less congested environment. The people who drove in more intense traffic had much higher reports of stress, as well as higher blood pressure.
Now this likely goes without saying, but if you are one of those people who feel like you're always in a rush, it might be worth leaving well before rush hour—even if you arrive at work at the same time as you normally would, you'll feel less anxious. Keep listening for some breathing techniques you can use to help manage your stress level.
7. Your Blood Pressure Rises Over Time, As Well A study of 4,297 Texans found that the farther the participants lived from where they worked—the longer their commutes—the higher their blood pressure was. High blood pressure over time is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
8. Your Cardiovascular Fitness Drops The same study out of Texas found that people with longer commutes also had lower levels of cardiovascular fitness and physical activity. It's not hard to see how spending more time in sitting in traffic results in spending less time pounding the pavement or pumping iron.
9. Your Sleep Suffers The Regus Work-Life Balance Index found that people who commute for longer than 45 minutes each way reported lower sleep quality and more exhaustion than people with shorter commutes. For some tips on how to get better sleep refer to the past podcast with Dr. Tam about Air and Light at workplacehero.me/airandlight
10. Your Back Aches Spending hours a week slouched over in a car, subway or bus seat has negative consequences on your posture and your back and neck. Which is why I always recommend standing on public transit. Not only will you not nod off and miss your stop but you will also spend the entire trip firing those little stabilizer muscles and engaging your proprioceptors which can help diminish many of the physiological issues associated with sitting for long periods of time.
Not surprisingly, according to a new study by researchers at McGill University, commuters are more likely to feel happier walking to work than taking any other form of transportation.
According to a BusinessInsider.com article, a team of researchers surveyed over 3,300 students, staff and faculty members about their travel times, comfort, safety, street harassment, cost, and wait times.
The researchers found that participants were happiest when they walked, rode the train, or cycled to work — in that order.
The researchers found that participants reported lower satisfaction when they traveled by car, subway, or bus - in that order.
When researchers dug deeper into the factors that affect commuter satisfaction, they discovered that travel duration mattered a great deal. Unsurprisingly, people with longer commutes felt less happy than those with shorter ones. But - and this is cool - travel time mattered less to walkers, bikers, and bus riders. An extra ten minutes lowered their satisfaction by only half as much as it did for those who drive, ride the train, or take the subway.
Gender was also a significant factor in determining satisfaction. Female participants were more likely to feel unsafe walking or riding the metro. The researchers explained that this finding makes sense because women can be more at risk for street harassment, so the safety of a car can feel more comfortable.
So, is the answer to be a man, who walks or rides his bike to work for less than 10 miles? Well, no. I wouldn't leave you hanging there like that… but if the shoe fits, wear it with panache, fellas.
Here are some healthy commuting tips for the Greatist.com article named, How to Make Your Commute Suck Way Less, by Sophia Breene.
On Public Transportation
1. Take the train. According to one study, train commuters are less stressed and have better moods than those who drive to work.
2. Bring your own entertainment. Use a train commute to prepare your brain for "work mode." Instead of zoning out or mindlessly thumbing through Instagram, use a book or puzzle to warm up for or cool down from a long day at work.
3. Find your Zen. Place both feet on the floor, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. The morning trip to the office can be a great time to get centred before a crazy workday. I am a huge believer in breath work. Personally, I use a method called box breathing. My friend Abi Carver (of yoga15.com) has a great video and article demonstrating how to do that.
Here is Abi to explain: This technique is practiced by NavySEALS to help them deal more capably with highly stressful events. Learning to focus on your breath helps to clear your mind and increases your capacity for concentration. Close your eyes, inhale, sit up tall, lengthen your spine and neck. Exhale, draw your shoulders back and let all the air out. Let's begin. Seal your lips and inhale slowly to a count of 5. Hold your breath for the count of 5. Exhale for the count of 5. And hold the breath out for the count of 5. Let's repeat that three more times…
4. Turn off technology. Why start working early? Are you getting paid overtime? Unless you're expecting an important call or text, refrain from technology during your commute. Rather than answer emails before you hit the door, use the time for your own self-care.
5. Snooze between stops. With someone else's eyes on the road, there's no reason you shouldn't take a short nap. Nodding off for a few minutes won't help you catch up from a severe sleep deficit, but a few short zzzs can help you feel refreshed and be more productive. Pro tip: before dozing, set a short timer, so you don't miss your stop.
When you are driving
6. Really (really!) relax. OK, you can't actually meditate with closed eyes while driving, but you can still practice mindful exercises. For example, progressive relaxation is done by tensing and relaxing each muscle group for five seconds, starting at your feet and continuing up through your entire body to your face. Combine this with long, slow breaths for a bigger relaxation boost.
7. Learn something new. Turn that dreaded hour of gridlock into an opportunity to learn something. Download a podcast, or an audiobook, or an app like Duolingo, which teaches you a new language (I am using it to brush up on my French).
8. Change your shoes. Interestingly enough, something as simple as changing from work shoes to well-worn sneakers can make a commute much more pleasant. If you've got a formal dress code at the office (high heels or a tie), changing at the end of the day is not only comfier, but it also tells your brain that the stress of the day is over.
9. Loosen up before the drive. Sitting in the driver's seat after a long day in an office chair can have negative physiological effects. Get limber with some stretches before hopping behind the wheel. Abi Carver (from the box breathing video) also has a great list of yoga poses that undo the damage caused by sitting and a few yoga moves that boost your energy at work . Again, I will put both of those links in the show notes at workplacehero.me/commute
And to round this all off, here are a few more happy/healthy commuting ideas I found during my research…
Studies show people who bike to work take fewer sick days than their driving or train-riding peers. If biking all the way to work isn't an option, consider cycling to a train or bus station, or meeting your carpool group a few miles from home.
Spending tons of time alone in the car is not only boring, but it can also cause feelings of isolation and general unhappiness. Instead of commuting alone, find someone to share the journey with.
Unexpected evening traffic jams or delayed trains can quickly turn a great day sour. To prevent a pre-dinner meltdown, get in the habit of keeping a healthy snack on hand. For more info on snacks, go to nutritionovereasy.com/hero and get Monica Reinagel's Complete Guide to Heroic Workplace Snacking! And also make sure to check out our past podcast on snacking at workplacehero.me/snacks
You already know that sitting for a long period is bad since you listened to the podcast about it… but if you must sit during your commute, watch your posture and keep changing it. Here are some things to try: - Sit at the edge of your seat for a few minutes and then sit as far back as you can, - Keep your feet flat on the floor and then lift them a little off the floor and see how long you can maintain that, - Draw your navel up and in, and lift up through the crown of the head. Hold this anatomically friendly position for 20 seconds, then relax and repeat, - Do some steering wheel isometrics. Grip the steering wheel as tightly as you can and hold it for 30 seconds, then relax and repeat, - By adjusting the way you are holding the steering wheel and which way you are applying pressure, you can do steering wheel pushdowns, bicep squeezes, or even chest flies, - Body weight resistance – If you are not the one doing the driving, you can try some elbow squeezes, commuter crunches, or torso twists. You may get some odd looks but think of it as brightening someone else's day - "You won't believe what I saw this chick doing on the subway this morning." - For your deep core – try some kegel exercises, glute squeezes, or pelvic tilts, - And as Abi describes in her article from earlier, do some neck isometrics – front, back, side-to-side.
Another less active strategy is to listen to soothing music. It may be tempting to use high-energy music to wake up in the morning, but up-tempo tunes can make a morning commute more stressful. One survey showed that drivers who listened to heavy metal or loud rock were more prone to road rage and collisions.
If there is one thing we have learned during this podcast, it is that you should try to walk whenever you can. Most commutes involve some sitting, so try to walk or stand wherever possible. Hoof'er to the bus instead of getting dropped off or park the car in the commuter lot in the farthest-away spot. And I can't stress this enough - if you are physically able, always take the stairs. Maybe if you work on the 25th floor, you get a pass on this one (no one wants to sweat up their Armani)… but you can only make this excuse on the way up!
And here's something a little unexpected - you can try smelling something nice. Commuting can be downright funky so try some on-the-go aromatherapy. A drop of lavender or lemon essential oil can keep anxiety and commuter odors at bay. Lemon, lavender and other plants like basil, oranges, jasmine, and laurel contain linalool, a chemical compound that has a calming effect.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't add a new favourite pass time of mine: Gratitude. Big crowds, late buses, bad weather, construction or inconsiderate jerks can rob you of your joy and feeling of wellness. The fix: Use the power of your mind to change your emotional reaction. If you let the commute do its magic, you'll feel miserable, so take that attention and put it elsewhere. The effects of gratitude and the ability to get in touch emotionally with a sense of thankfulness or appreciation can turn frustration and resentment on its head.
And it is simple to do. Just ask yourself, "What am I grateful for today?" And then find something that really resonates with you. It can be fairly simple, like the kiss you got from your partner or the plans you have for the evening — or maybe it is that they finally spelled your name right on your morning latté. You can use these moments to create a “mental gratitude list” and then focus on it on the way to or on the way from work.
If you can use one, two or all of these techniques, you may just find that you arrive at your destination in a more content physical and emotional state.
Workplace Hero is researched, written, narrated and recorded by me Brock Armstrong with editing help and voice acting from Eleanor Cohen. Podcast logo by Ken Cunningham and music by my old band, The Irregular Heartbeats. Special thanks to Abi Carver for allowing me to use a portion of her Box Breath video. You can find out more about Abi at Yoga15.com.
Now go make this week count!