Three hours. Apparently, you can now get from Balintawak to Baguio in that amount of time. On a really bad day, however, three hours is hardly enough for the one-way drive from Makati to Quezon City. And all those hours spent sitting in traffic on a regular basis isn’t just wasting your time, it’s also causing your body to waste away.
Let’s start with the immediate issues. Some of the overuse injuries you could suffer from, especially if you’re the one driving, are "mechanical lower-back pain, spinal problems, piriformis syndrome, and neck and upper-back spasms," says Ma. Crisanta Prieto, PTRP, varsity physiotherapist at the UP Diliman Sports Physical Therapy Clinic. These issues, which arise from repetitive stress on the affected body parts, are often easily resolved with adequate rest, physical therapy, and strengthening exercises.
The long-term effects are much more serious than overuse injuries. Prieto cites a 2009 study that showed how "too much sitting" was a "predictor of weight gain" and chronic diseases like cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other degenerative conditions. Another study conducted in 2014 found that "longer driving time," or more than 120 minutes behind the wheel per day, "was associated with higher odds for smoking, insufficient physical activity, short sleep, obesity, and worse physical and mental health."
Given that most of us have no choice but to endure the arduous daily commute, the best way to help our bodies cope is to stop for rest breaks when possible. "Ideally, you should [get up from a sitting position] every 20 minutes, or not more than 30 minutes," Prieto says.
But because that’s usually not an option, she recommends these seven in-car stretches targeting the areas that take a beating when you sit or drive for extended periods of time. If you’re the one driving, these should be done only when the car is at a complete standstill, with the parking brake engaged—preferably at a stoplight with a timer, or when you have a companion to alert you that traffic is starting to move forward.
Also, remember to take it easy—the point is to relieve the tension in your body, not to explore the limits of your flexibility. And, if while driving or while doing any of these stretches, you experience shooting pain, numbness, weakness, an impinged sensation, aches and soreness lasting more than two days, or discoloration on distal extremities, stop the activity and consult a specialist as soon as possible.
Directions: Observe proper form at all times. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds per rep, and do three reps per set. You may decrease the hold time to 10 seconds per rep, but add more reps per set. Do a complete set of stretches every 30 minutes.
Targets the neck muscles
a. Side tilt. Hold on to the left edge of your seat with your left hand. Tilt your neck to the right, bringing your right ear toward your right shoulder. Use your right hand to gently pull your head down and gradually intensify the stretch. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
b. Forward tilt. Tilt your head forward, bringing your chin toward your chest. Use both hands to gently pull your head down and gradually intensify the stretch. Hold, then release slowly.
c. Levator scapulae stretch. Hold on to the left edge of your seat with your left hand. Tilt your head forward, then turn it slightly to the right. Use your right hand to gently pull your head down and gradually intensify the stretch. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Targets the chest muscles
Keeping your neck and back straight, bring both hands behind your head. Interlock your fingers and point your elbows out. Slowly move your elbows backward by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold, then release slowly.
Targets the upper-back and shoulder muscles
Keeping your back straight, bring your right arm across your chest, your right palm facing inward. Use your left hand to pull your right upper arm closer to your body. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Targets the upper-back, shoulder, and arm muscles
Raise your arms so that they are parallel to your thighs, then interlock your fingers with your palms facing outward. Slowly round your upper back, contracting your core as if you’re pulling your navel toward your spine. Hold, then release slowly.
Targets the trunk rotator muscles
Hold on to the rear-right edge of your seat with your right hand. You may cross your right leg over your left leg, or leave your legs uncrossed. Keeping your back straight, slowly rotate your trunk to the right. Use your left hand to pull against your right knee to gradually intensify the stretch. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Targets the lateral trunk muscles
Hold on to the right edge of your seat with your right hand. Sit tall, raise your left hand above your head (bend your elbow if there’s not enough headroom), and bend to the right to stretch out the left side of your trunk. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.
Targets the piriformis or sitting muscle
Cross your right leg over your left leg such that the right ankle is over the left knee. With your back straight and your right hand pushing down on your right knee, lean forward until you feel a stretch deep in your right buttock. Hold, release slowly, then repeat on the other side. That’s one rep.