THE BLOG

The Aches and Pains of Commuting

05/12/2014 13:50 GMT | Updated 03/02/2015 10:59 GMT
Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

How much time do you spend sitting every day? Let me give you an example. You wake up after a good night's rest of seven hours, and give yourself an hour to get up and get ready for work. Then you sit on a train or in a car for the next 30 minutes or so (more for a lot of us) and travel into work.

If you're office-based like me, you're then likely to spend the next eight hours largely sitting at a desk or in meeting rooms. And if that's not enough sitting down for one day, many of us do the same on the commute home and probably spend a proportion of the evening sitting; having dinner and watching Netflix.

This is hours of sedentary behaviour, all in a day's work. It sounds extreme, but how far off the truth is it? When you break your average day down like this we can start to see the bigger picture - and it's worrying me.

We often talk about workplace health and the measures we need to take to ensure that everyone is happy and healthy at work. But in particular I want to focus on those two periods of time that bookend your working day. Yes I'm talking about the dreaded commute.

My commute into work takes me about 90 minutes. Like many, I live just outside of London and travel via train and tube to get to the office. According to national statistics, travelling for longer than 30 minutes on public transport is likely to increase my anxiety levels and affect my personal wellbeing.

My heart sinks. Not great news to hear that my wellbeing is taking a hit before 9am in the morning.

And it's not just my emotional wellbeing that's affected by commuting. According to new research from Bupa, commuting to work is causing back, muscle or joint pain in one fifth of the UK's workforce.

Those of us who live in London seem to have it the worst. And according to the report it seems it's a matter of personal space that we feel is to blame for our aches and pains. 73% of those surveyed in the capital city felt their commute contributed to their ailments and 59% said having more room would reduce their suffering.

There's not an easy or obvious solution here. After all, we all need to make a living and it's universally accepted that getting to and from work is all part and parcel of that.

Yet Bupa's report highlights that nearly half of people who suffer from back and joint pain don't think about their posture when they are commuting. And only a fifth make an effort to stretch their back and legs throughout their journey.

Add in to the mix that many of us use the commute to do some work and we've got another problem. According to a report published in Surgical Technology International, tilting our heads by 60 degrees (the position you adopt when looking down at your phone, tablet or laptop on your knee) puts considerable strain on your spine - over 25kg.

Cutting the commute isn't an option for most of us, whether you're a bus or train ride from work, or need to drive long distances. So what can I suggest here? Well, the first and most important thing for me is factoring in exercise every day. Working long hours and commuting makes it hard to fit this in I grant you. But I'm at the gym at least three times a week, and because it's important to me and my health, it's a non-negotiable.

Pay attention to your posture. Check in with yourself regularly throughout the day. Whether you're travelling or sitting, at home or at work, sitting up straight and realigning your body can help stop aches and pains developing. This is also important if you're standing all day.

Small movements can make a big difference. Exercises like rotating your ankles and rolling your shoulders are easy things to do to help keep your joints moving. You can do them anywhere - whether its sat at your desk, stood in a shop or on the bus.

Break a spell of sitting down regularly. Try a walking meeting or stand up to make a phone call. I've even come across a team who have their weekly meeting as a spin class! Or, simply take every opportunity to move more throughout the day - taking the stairs, using your breaks to get up and move around.

Change your commute. I'm not suggesting you move house or invent a new mode of travel ('canuting' anyone?). But think about what you could do to reduce the time you spend sitting or standing still while getting from A to B. One of the easiest things to do is get off the bus or tube one or two stops earlier and walk. It's not only great for movement; it can help your mind transition into the right headspace for the next phase of your day.

With 31 million working days lost to back, neck and muscle pains last year, we need to work on making our commute easier - on our minds and bodies.