According to an article in Scientific American magazine, studies have shown that long-distance commuters suffer from symptoms that range from headaches and backaches to digestive problems and high blood pressure. There are a number of reasons these symptoms occur, including bad weather, traffic jams and accidents, which all raise stress levels.
The most common indications of commute-related stress are tight muscles throughout your body ó particularly in your shoulders, as well as in your upper and lower back area. Additionally, a lack of lower body movement decreases blood circulation in your legs.
Therefore, itís a good idea (for your mind and body) to stretch before you hit the road for a long commute. The following is a list of five different stretches intended to help loosen up your tight muscles, increase blood flow and help you deal with the stress of traveling long distances in your car.
Lying Lower Back Stretch
Lower back pain is an incredibly common and targeted stretches for this area result not just in pain relief but, if done over time, will actually increase your strength and flexibility.
Technique: While lying on a flat surface, pull your knees up to your chest, lifting your pelvis a few inches of the ground. You should feel a slight pulling sensation in your lower back (be advised: you should not feel extreme discomfort). Hold the stretch for about 30-40 seconds.
Forward Head Stretch
The beauty of this stretch is that it can be performed anywhere ó including in your car, while you are stopped in traffic or at a light.
Technique: Tuck your chin into your chest as if you were nodding and focus your gaze downwards. Hold this for a few seconds, then gently pull your head forward. You should feel the stretch along the mid back to upper back areas (trapezius). Ideally, you would hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and slowly return to your starting part.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
Because there is little to no movement in your lower body while driving, stretching your leg muscles is a good way to increase your circulation and loosen any tightness. Much like the advice given to passengers on long airplane flights, itís important to move your legs to stimulate circulation.
Technique: Stand with your legs shoulder width apart, preferably with one hand on an object (e.g., your car) for balance. Grab the ankle of the leg you are stretching and pull back toward your buttocks until you feel your quad muscle engaged. Slowly return to the starting position. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Follow by stretching the opposite leg.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Most people press on the accelerator and brake with the top portion (or ball) of their foot, causing the hamstring muscle to contract. To counteract this contraction, it is important to stretch the hamstring muscles.
Technique: Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your fingers downward while bending at the trunk of your waist. Reach as far back as possible, let your head hang loose, and hold the stretch. You should feel a slight pulling sensation in your hamstrings. Again, note that you should feel a pull not any pain. Hold the stretch for at least 10-15 seconds. Follow by gradually returning to the starting position. To avoid microscopic ligament tears, avoid any bouncing or additional weight-bearing movement in this position.
Standing Calf Stretch
Tightness in your calf muscles increases the risk of tendon tears in your Achilles and other sprains/injuries. To avoid this tightness, try the following.
Technique: Place your hands, with your arms locked, on a tree or fence, with your legs as far back as possible. Lean on the stationary surface as you unlock your arms while keeping your feet and legs in place. The further your legs are back, the more youíll feel the stretch in the intended area (claves). Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
While it would be ideal, you donít need to perform each of these exercises every day. Try to rotate between 2-3 and also before you leave for work and on your way home. Not only will stretching before your commute help with the relaxation of your muscles and energize your mind, but it will also help with your overall strength, flexibility, and mindfulness.