While enjoying my daily commute, I often ponder the messages that bombard us along the highways but tend to ignore: “How’s my driving;” “If you can read this, you’re too close;” “Speed Limit 25.”
But there was one message in particular that had me pondering from gaper delay to disabled vehicle. On the back of a large tractor trailer, a sign read, “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.”
What at first seemed to be a smug, passive/aggressive warning abdicating any and all responsibility on part of the truck driver for the dreaded “blind spot,” I realized was actually quite an empowering statement for the 21st century. What the truck is trying to tell us is that the solution to most problems is always within view; we’re just not looking at it the right way.
Take for instance the recent study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis showing how long commutes, more than 15 miles a day, are associated with higher weight and lower fitness levels.
Researchers, who looked at several variables including BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol , and blood pressure among others, speculated that a longer commute leads to less time to do other things like prepare a balanced meal or take a trip to the gym.
Since 86% of us commute an average of 25.1 minutes according to 2009 Census data, it may appear that we are a portable population heading for a portly population.
The solution, however, seems to have been sitting in our blind spot all along and is closer than it appears. You see, we have been overlooking the wellness potential of a long commute.
When we’re already running late and have drizzled coffee down our white shirt, it is inevitable we’ll hit a sea of brake lights just as we enter the stream of traffic causing us to sigh, snort, or scream. In wellness terms this is known as deep breathing.
Not only does deep breathing release toxins in the body as well as tension, it increases oxygenation to help increase muscle mass. In addition, deep breathing helps burn excessive fat because the fat burns more efficiently with the extra oxygen.
As you muddle through the morning muck and people pass you on the shoulder then force their way in that tiny space between you and the car in front of you, while other drivers honk their horns, yell obscenities, and blast their poor taste in music, you furl your brow, tense your shoulders, and maintain a death grip on the steering wheel. We’ll call this isometric exercise.
Isometrics is when a muscle contracts, tightens, without extending or shortening like it would if you were lifting, say, a dumbbell (and not the one in the car in front of you). Experts say that just by contracting a muscle for 30 seconds at a time can contribute to fat burning and muscle strengthening. Just imagine how flat those abs could be and how tight that tush could get with just one rainy morning drive.
To keep your mind off of the day ahead and the tailgater behind, you turn on the radio and, in the solitude and safety of the car, you belt out that Duran Duran song you never admitted to liking. This we can refer to as cardio-strength training.
Studies have shown that signing not only has cardiovascular benefits because of the deep breathing necessary, but certain muscles are worked out as well. Your abs, back, groin, and posterior are all muscles that support vocal sound and projection.
Long commutes can promote fitness. It just depends on the effort you put into it, and your point of view. The potential for commuter calisthenics has always been right in front of us, maybe we just couldn’t see the mirrors.