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Is your commute to work making you anxious, depressed, stressed out, and generally unhealthy?

Studies show those with longer commutes to work are less healthy than their peers.

Over 12 million Canadians drive to work every day, spending an average of 25.4 minutes in the car each way (or about 204 hours commuting each year), and that's just the national average. In certain cities, like Toronto and Montreal, the commute to work is significantly longer (about 32.8 and 29.7 minutes each way, respectively).  Many Canadians drive over an hour to and from work each way, the equivilant of about 62 working days spent sitting in the car commuting annually. According to research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, longer commute distances to and from work (more than 16 kilometers each way) are associated with higher blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels; higher anxiety and depression risk, reduced cardiovascular fitness levels; and increased incidence of chronic neck and back pain. 

One report by Harvard Business Review stated that many individuals rank their daily commute to work as more stressful than their jobs, moving into a new house, or going to the dentist. It was also reported that workers with lengthy commutes reported feeling generally less satisfied with life than people with shorter commutes. Other studies have found that people with longer commutes are less productive at work, and have lower job satisfaction rates than their peers. One study conducted in Sweden in 2011 even found that couples have a 40% higher chance of getting divorced when one partner commutes more than 45 minutes to work each day.

When it comes to commuting, it's important to use the time mindfully. Be proactive about making changes that will improve your enjoyment of your daily commute. For example, carpool.  People who carpool often experience lower levels of commute-related stress than those who commute alone.  If you enjoy listening to something while you drive (and can still remain focused on the road) listen to an interesting podcast that you will enjoy, or an audiobook, or use the time during your commute to learn a new language by listening to an audio program for language learning. Many universities also offer free courses taught by podcast - learning new things - being a "lifetime learner" is one of the best things you can do to promote brain health and to prevent dementia in later life. Knowing that you are using your commute to boost your brain health will help you change your mindset and likely make you feel more satisfied about the time spent in the car. 

For those are able to logistically, walking part or all of the way to work, or cycling to work is the best option for your health.  If you take the public transit, get off a few stops before you otherwise would and get in the habit of walking the rest of the way. If you drive to work, find a farther parking lot than you otherwise would and walk the rest of the way - even 10 minutes of brisk walking per day offers health benefits. 

 

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When it comes to reducing risk of back pain or injury, driver ergonomics is important.

Ergonomics aims to optimize the interaction between people and their environment. Instead of allowing people to adapt to an environment that forces them to work in an uncomfortable, stressful, or dangerous way, an appropriate ergonomic set-up will modify your setting to allow you to work efficiently and minimize pain and discomfort. For those who spend long periods sitting behind a wheel, vehicle set-up is critical. Have you ever thought about how your vehicle set-up may be impacting your health?

Discomfort While Driving: The most common reported areas of discomfort while driving are the neck, shoulders and the lower back. Sensations of pain and discomfort set in after extended periods of driving or potentially even earlier if you have a pre-existing injury. Here are some ways you improve comfort while driving and reduce risk of injury.

 

Tips to Improve Your Driving Ergonomics

1)  Seat Height

The seat should be adjusted to a height where you can safely see out the windshield while still having a firm foot placement on the ground. For taller individuals, be sure to leave enough head room to avoid any sudden contact with the roof.  There should be enough space (20-25cm) between your hands and your shoulders while you are driving. This will reduce the risk of injury if the air bag were to deploy. If you feel like you are pulling on the steering wheel, rather than pushing, then the steering wheel is too far away. An elbow angle between 95o and 120o was found to be optimum for driving precision. At these angles, the hands are slightly pushing rather than pulling on the steering wheel. Seat height should be adjusted such that when you are holding the steering wheel, your shoulders can remain relaxed at angle range of 0o-63o relative to the body and it does not block sight of your controls and gauges.

2)  Seat Distance

You should be able to comfortably reach beyond the pedals without having to overreach or shift your hips. Be careful that this adjustment does not put you too close to the steering wheel.

3)  Seat Recline

The seat should be reclined so there is an angle range of 900-110o. Pressure between the vertebrae and on the lower back is significantly reduced when the seat is reclined slightly. This position will allow your muscles in the back to relax, reducing incidence of fatigue. However, leaning back any further than 1100 will cause excessive neck flexion which will lead to pain and discomfort over time.

4)  Lumbar Support

The lumbar support will help maintain neutral spine. It should be positioned directly at the small of the back, between your pelvis and your lower ribs, and applying pressure just to the point that you feel it. For cars that do not have this feature, there are many lumbar pillows that can attached to your seat. It is not recommended to use a towel or any device that cannot be secured into place.

5)  Head Rest

The head rest is designed to prevent whiplash, therefore you must not need to rest your head while driving. However, it is important that it be adjusted to the correct height to minimize the distance from the headrest to the back of your head.

6)  Mirrors

Once you have all the above set up properly, you must then set up your mirrors to the correct angles that prevents your body and head from leaving neutral position. Position your mirrors so that all you need is a simple eye glance.

7)  Stretches and Breaks

No matter how perfect your posture, your body will eventually get tired sitting in one position. The human body is not really designed to keep a fixed position for long periods of time or to perform repetitive tasks. To avoid pain, discomfort, and minimize risk of injury, it’s important to take frequent breaks from any fixed position, including while driving. Pull over and take regular stretch breaks to move your muscles, change position, and help blood to recirculate. 

 

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