I have a long commute. It is 45 miles from my front door to the office, of which I spend an hour and fifteen minutes on a train and the other 30 minutes walking at either end. After a full day at work, there’s little time for anything else, especially exercise.
The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but it’s important to remember the positive effects exercise can have on your mood, sleeping, and in alleviating stress and anxiety. If, like me, you spend much of your day commuting and working, with little time for anything else, here are some ideas for exercising while commuting.
Before you start doing stomach crunches in your car seat or star jumps while waiting for the bus, first consider what you hope to gain by exercising during your commute.
In my opinion, exercising in your car or while on the bus or train, is not a substitute for a proper workout. While it might get your blood pumping, it’s not going to get you hot and sweaty in the same way that aerobic exercise does.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It just means it can’t replace going for a good run. If you can, find ways to incorporate physical activity into your commute or your working day.
When I first started my long commute, I would drive to the train station, saving myself a 20-minute walk every morning and evening. Disembarking from the train after a long day, it was lovely knowing I could just jump in the car and be home is 5 minutes, rather than contending with another 20-minute walk.
But the satisfaction I gain from walking far outweighs the guilty pleasure of hopping in the car. My walk home is an opportunity to clear my head, get my heart pumping and my muscles moving. It’s a similar feeling in the morning. Starting the day off with a brisk walk does wonders of my mental state. I choose the walk over driving every time, even though it adds 30 minutes on to my journey time.
During the summer months, I go one better. On my train journey home, I’ll get off a few stops early and jog the rest of the way. I get changed into my running gear before leaving the office, and I’m ready to run. Even if you drive to work, rather than using mass transit, try parking 15 minutes farther away from the office each day and walk the rest of the journey. Every little helps.
If everything I've mentioned above is just not possible, then there are alternative exercises that you can do either in your car or on public transport. While they might not be enough to help you lose weight, I consider these exercises to have similar benefits to yoga or meditation. They’re good for your mind, body, and soul.
Isometric exercises require clenching, contracting and squeezing muscles with little or no movement of the joint or limb, so they’re perfect for the car, bus or train. The Plank is a good example of an isometric exercise. The exertion of holding your body off the ground while resting on your forearms strengthens the core muscles in the back, stomach, and upper body, without requiring any physical movement. Isometrics won’t improve your aerobic performance, but they are good for strengthening and stability. Isometric exercises usually require holding a pose (like the plank) for a period of time and repeating.
Just to be clear, although these exercises aren't particularly strenuous, I’m not a personal trainer or a doctor so you might wish to seek professional advice before trying these. As with any exercise, it is important to maintain correct posture and continue breathing throughout. For all the exercises listed below, you should be sitting with your back straight, shoulders pushed back and relaxed, without using the seat back for support.
Also, it’s unlikely you will have warmed-up before doing these exercises, so make your movements slow and avoid wrenching.
And, it goes without saying, you should not carry out any of these exercises while you are driving. If the congestion in your town is anything like mine, you’ll have plenty of time to have a go while the car is stationary.
Health and fitness is a long game. Recognizing the benefits can be difficult if all you are doing is a few exercises during your commute to work each day. It needs to be a strategy that you incorporate into your whole way of life, in everything that you do. Decide to eat well and cut out the things that you know are bad for you. Whenever you have the option to take the stairs, take the stairs. And, if you can walk somewhere rather than get a cab or a bus, take the opportunity to walk.
Staying motivated can be difficult, so use technology to realize your achievements. Invest in a health tracker that you can wear on your wrist that will measure how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and how far you’ve walked. Most trackers will also include software that will motivate you to improve day on day and chart your progress. You’ll be amazed how much you can achieve, even if you have very little spare time.
Commuting can be stressful, tiring and gradually wear you down. Being productive is about challenging yourself to make the most of your time. It’s far easier to sit in your car and complain about the traffic or sit on public transport scrolling monotonously through your Facebook feed. Being productive on your commute will give your journey a sense of purpose, and your achievements will give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Whether you drive or use public transport, to be more productive while commuting, decide in advance what you want to accomplish. Sleep well, so you wake up feeling fresh and motivated. Remove any distractions and focus on the task you’ve set yourself. Embrace technology and make use of apps that will help you get more done.
Before we look at the ways you can make your commute more productive, let’s look at why it’s important.
Commuting can dictate your mood for the day. If your journey makes you feel grumpy and miserable, it will impact on your whole day. You know commuting is a pain. Yes, it’s likely to be busy, and I guarantee you there’ll be congestion. These are things you can’t change, so focus on what you can improve. Start your day with a list of things you want to accomplish during your journey to work. Even if you only manage one task on your list, you’ll arrive at your destination having one less thing to do. You’ll also a have a sense of achievement at having already kicked a goal.
In a commencement speech at the University of Texas, Admiral William H. McRaven talked about how, during Navy SEALs training, the recruits first task each day was to make their beds. He explained how the task seemed ridiculous, but how symbolic it was in shaping their day. Having made their beds, their first task of the day was completed before they’d even had breakfast.
Successful people are task oriented. They plan out their day and tick off their achievements. Set yourself a goal for your commute and get to the office having already accomplished something.
Commuting is a rare opportunity to lock yourself away without disturbance. It’s all too easy to be distracted at work. With open plan offices, incessant email alerts, your phone ringing and colleagues chatting, it’s a wonder anyone is able to get anything done. Use your commute to shut everything out and focus on tasks that need your undivided attention.
Working during your commute demonstrates dedication and commitment. It also shows your employer you are capable of working remotely. Use this as leverage to discuss flexible work arrangements, such as work from home more frequently.
Using your time more wisely will help to stop procrastination and get stuff done. Hopefully, this will help you to finish your working day on time and get home sooner.
Commuting is also an opportunity to improve yourself or develop a new skill. Use the time to practice a speech, listen to audiobooks on your chosen field, or learn a language. Acquiring new skills will benefit you and your career.
Being productive while maintaining focus on the road is difficult but not impossible. Planning ahead is key. Make planning for the next day one of the jobs for your journey home.
Categorize your work into the jobs that require you to be in the office and those that don’t. With the help of apps tasks such as returning phone calls and going through emails, can all be achieved during your commute.
Actively arrange telephone meetings with colleagues or clients for when you’re on the road. Start with one on one conversations and once you’re comfortable, try dialing
into group meetings. Set up your car to allow you to make and receive calls. Test your Bluetooth connection for quality. You may find the microphone on your headphones do a better job of cutting out background noise than your car’s Bluetooth.
Ask your company to give you access to work remotely. At a minimum, most companies allow their employees to access their emails from their cell phone.
Reading your emails while driving is not a good idea. Make use of apps like Speak Email, which integrates with your inbox and reads your emails aloud to you. Speak Email uses swiping left or right to mark emails for follow-up or delete ones that are irrelevant.
Natural Reader, like Speak Email, is an app that will read Word documents, PDFs and books aloud to you while you drive.
Once you’ve caught up on your emails, you can dictate your responses or make notes using Dragon Anywhere. Dragon Anywhere will convert your voice to text.
If you need a break from work, Audible has a collection of audio books and courses in a variety of subjects that can help develop your skill set and career.
Finally, why not try learning a language while listening to music. EarworksLeanring takes the theory behind how we subconsciously learn the lyrics to a song from listening to the song repeatedly and applies this idea to language. By combining foreign phrases with catchy music, you learn as you listen.
Unlike driving, commuting by public transit makes it easy to be productive (assuming you can get a seat!). However, as with driving, preparation is essential – learn to be task oriented. Write down what you want to achieve each day and highlight those tasks that can be done during your journey.
Make a habit of pulling out your laptop as soon as you are settled on your train or bus. Having a routine will help in your quest to be productive for the long-term and, by answering emails, your boss will come to recognize when you’re online and (hopefully!) appreciate the extra time you’re putting in.
Embrace technology. You want to cut yourself off from the world and focus your mind, so get yourself a small, portable laptop and a good set of noise-canceling
headphones. You won’t have a lot of room in which to work, so try to become paperless and have everything you need in an electronic format on your laptop.
Ask your employer to allow you access to work files and email from your laptop.
Use your morning commute to do what you would otherwise do when you arrive at the office. If your morning ritual is to sit at your desk, have a coffee, read the news and check your email. Use your commute to do these things so you can hit the ground running when you arrive at work.
Use the time for personal development. Try learning to speed read. I once worked for a judge who could speed read. He could read a standard size novel in a little over two hours. He had one of the original Kindles with the buttons on the side to change the page. He described how the constant clicking of the button as he turned the pages every few seconds would drive his wife crazy. He was taught to speed read by a college professor who recognized its importance to learning. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter were both speed readers and they felt so passionately about it, they arranged courses for their staff while they were in office.
Challenge yourself. Start a new initiative or work on something above and beyond your regular duties. Stand out from your peers.
Regardless of how you commute to work, being productive starts with being healthy.
To wake up feeling like you’re ready to conquer the world requires eating healthily, sleeping well and plenty of exercise. If you feel good about yourself, it will be reflected in your work, and you’ll want to maintain that feeling.
In contrast, tiredness has the opposite effect. You are more likely to be irritable, feel demotivated and eat the wrong things. Reward yourself for your accomplishments by giving yourself time off, rather than just seeing that time off as a given for finishing work or because it’s the weekend.
Productivity requires effort, and anything that requires effort is challenging. But anything that is challenging will also make you feel great when you succeed. Challenging yourself provides a sense of purpose and a sense of achievement. Eventually, it becomes so addictive that, before you know it, you’re being successful and standing out from the crowd without even thinking about it.
Several times a year I’m required to drive to Canberra for work. It’s a 400-mile round trip, separated by six hours of meetings and presentation. By the time I get in the car to drive home, I’m exhausted.
Staying awake at the wheel is not just a problem for long-haul truckers. The longer we spend driving, the greater the risk that tiredness will affect our ability to drive safely.
The best way to stay awake while driving is to set off in the morning after a good sleep. If you drive regularly, it’s worth considering a vehicle fitted with the latest Driver Assistance safety features. Otherwise, regular breaks for a nap or exercise, staying hydrated by drinking water, and plenty of cold, fresh air will also help.
Truckers refer to it as ‘highway hypnosis.’ The monotonous noise of the tires on the tarmac and the low hum of the engine. It does a great job of sending the kids off to sleep in the back seats. Ironically, modern vehicles may make falling sleeping easier, thanks to improved soundproofing, a smoother ride and features like climate control and heated seats.
We’re also pushing our bodies further. People like me are making the decision to live outside the city and commute to the office. We’re waking up earlier, traveling further and spending more time on the road. All the while, still putting in the same number of hours at the office.
If this is your situation, the chances are, you’re exhausted before you even start the journey home. And, whether we’re commuting for work or vacation, congestion on the roads is compelling us to avoid the worst of the traffic by driving when we’re usually asleep.
If the description above sounds like you, what are the signs you should look out for? How can you tell if you’re about to doze off?
There are the obvious things – repetitive yawning and heavy eyelids. However, there are other, not so visible signs, such as getting lost in your thoughts and zoning out. A simple test is to try remembering the last five minutes of your journey – like road signs or vehicles you passed.
Forgetting recent events on your journey is a strong indication you could do with a break. At this stage of tiredness, your reaction times are probably way lower than normal, even though you might feel ok. If you’re drifting between lanes you shouldn’t be driving, plain and simple. If you notice this kind of behavior, you should pull over and have a nap.
One of the best solutions for staying awake is to have a buddy or family member with you, to share the drive.
I previously worked for an engineering company, who were responsible for maintaining the radio infrastructure around Australia. Australia’s a big place, and Aussie’s don’t think twice about driving 10 or 12 hours to their destination. The company I worked for would always send out two people, even if the job only required one. The sole purpose was to allow the engineers to share the drive, and I’ve no doubt the decision saved lives. Some of the stories the guys would recall about driving those long distances – it would make your hair stand on end!
Of course, unless you’re on vacation, the likelihood of having someone to share your drive are slim.
I mentioned some of the tried and tested methods of staying awake at the start of this article: Keeping cold by having either the windows down or the air conditioning set to freezing, is one method. Another is to stay hydrated by drinking water, and frequently stopping to stretch or take a nap, are also recommended.
I’ve read that some people find eating or chewing sunflower seeds also work. It’s a combination of having to remove the shells and the salt in the seeds, which apparently keep the brain alert and focused.
Power napping for 10 to 15 minutes has proven to be very beneficial. Just being able to get a bit of sleep during your journey is going to help. Although, if you can doze off for 10 minutes by the side of the road, you’re clearly very tired.
Having a coffee will help in the short term but overdosing on caffeine is probably not the answer. Similarly, energy drinks and sweets offer nothing more than a quick sugar rush followed by an inevitable slump. Any solution that is based on sugar is a bad idea, and equally bad for your health.
Having a heavy meal before setting off or during your trip will also increase tiredness. Steer clear of fast food and meals high in saturated fat. Look for ingredients high in B and C vitamins. There should be plenty of color on the plate, especially green.
Car manufacturers, while finding ways to make our journey more comfortable, are also implementing technology to combat driver fatigue. Many car manufacturers now include driver assistance safety features as standard. While the names of these features differ, the underlying technology is similar, if not identical. If you’re in the market for a new car, the main features to look out for include:
Below are links to the safety pages of some leading car manufacturers:
If your car doesn’t have the latest safety features, there are off-the-shelf products that claim to recognize drowsiness. However, judging by some of the reviews, they can give false responses and probably shouldn’t be wholly relied upon. The two most popular devices on Amazon are the Resqme Alertme Lifesaver Alert and StopSleep.
Resqme Alertme Lifesaver Alert is a device that sits behind the ear, like a hearing aid, and sounds an alarm when it senses the driver’s head dropping forward, in the manner of someone falling asleep. The alarm is about 90 decibels or equivalent to a police whistle.
StopSleep is worn like a knuckle duster across the index and middle finger, rather than behind the ear. The explanation of how it works describes how it uses,
“cutaneous sensors which monitor your electrodermal activity. Your electrodermal activity represents your brain activity, and by measuring this activity, StopSleep drowsy driver alarm can accurately gauge your levels of awareness.”
The sensor has two levels of alerting the driver. It starts with a warning vibration but follows with a loud alarm, if it believes the driver is in danger.
While researching this article, I read about several cell phone apps that claimed to recognized driver fatigue. However, many of these apps are no longer available on their respective app stores. I don’t know the reason, but it might indicate that devices and apps are not accurate enough to be used reliably.
Vehicle safety technology has come a long since the days of freezing yourself to stay awake. However, perhaps the best way to ensure not sleeping at the wheel is still to maintain a healthy lifestyle and sleep well.
You can’t compete with sleep. It’s a biological necessity, same as the need for food and water. Regardless of technology, your body will always win.