What's your daily commute to work like? Short and sweet? Long and maddening? If it's the latter, your health—and the number on the scale—may be in trouble. According to a new study, commuting long distances is associated with decreased cardio fitness, increased weight and other indicators of metabolic risk.
Published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that those who commuted more than 15 miles to work were less likely to meet moderate to vigorous physical activity recommendations and were more likely to be obese. Those who commuted more than 10 miles to work were also more likely to have high blood pressure.
The research makes sense, says Lynda Lippin, fitness professional and Pilates instructor in New York City.
"Does it really surprise anybody that spending more time sitting and possibly being stressed out in traffic has an adverse affect on health with higher rates of obesity?" Lippin asks. "Add in the fact that workers with longer commutes tend to eat food on the run (usually not the healthiest choices) and have less time to exercise, and the situation is pretty clear."
Something known as "the car effect," also plays a role, says Taylor Ryan, personal trainer and founder of The Art of Weight Lifting Fit Club. Ryan himself travels close to 100 miles a day for his business, driving from location to location.
"When you spend time in the car, you end up with that exhausted feeling, as if you just ran 10 miles," Ryan says. "It's pushing through this effect to make results with your body and health. Car time means less motivation as well as increased fat."
Not to mention that when you're in the car you're completely inactive and sitting. The negative health effects of sitting too much are well documented.
So if you do have a long commute, what can you do to make sure your health doesn't take a nosedive? Besides finding a job closer to home or moving closer to your work (or bike commuting!), Lippin has a few tips for commuters. First, do what all the health professionals recommend: Park away from your office to rack up extra steps, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and try to move as much as possible. Second, try to wake up 20 minutes earlier to talk a walk or do some exercise before you get in the car or on the bus, train or plane.
Your goal for the day is to try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise in, even if it's broken up into three 10-minute sections, Lippin says.
"You can do squats by sitting down and standing up again by any chair, incline push-ups leaning on a desk or counter, and you can walk down the hall to talk to a co-worker instead of calling," she says. "The more active you are, including short HIIT (high intensity interval training) spurts, the more calories you will burn while sitting during your long commute."
Also, don't forget about good nutrition! Eating the right foods can help give you the energy to fit fitness in. Lippin suggests making an easy grab-and-go breakfast like hard boiled eggs, fruit, low-fat cottage cheese, or even a raw, high-fiber, high-protein bar. Also, if you're a coffee drinker, she says have plain, black coffee. That way you avoid the extra additives, calories, and fat of "coffee drinks." Lastly, avoid that after-work energy slump by carrying high-energy snacks, like nuts, eggs, and Greek yogurt in your bag at all times.
The bottom line? Commuting long distances is challenging, but it's not a reason to ditch a healthy lifestyle. Follow these tips and you can overcome the research! Now tell us, how long is your commute? Do you feel the "car effect," too? How do you overcome?