Spend a lot of time behind the wheel getting from point A to point B? You might be concerned about the impact of those miles on the planet. But driving also affects your own health.
Try this advice — in addition to the obvious safety tips like buckling up and not driving impaired or talking or texting behind the wheel — to boost your wellness on the road.
Recirculate on red
When you’re stopped at a red light, chances are you pull up a few feet, or worse, a few inches, from the car in front of you — and its exhaust pipe. That’s a mistake. According to a study from the University of Surrey in England, air pollution at intersections with traffic lights is 29 times higher than on the open road.
You probably can’t avoid these intersections, so do the next best thing: When you stop for a red light, keep your distance from the car in front of you (which will also help in the event the car behind you rear-ends you). Close the windows if they’re open, and turn off the fan or switch to recirculate mode.
Combat new car smell
That smell is the result of countless chemicals, including toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Car manufacturers have been phasing out the worst offenders, but it can’t hurt to air out your car whenever possible by opening the windows while it’s in the driveway, if it’s safe to do so, especially during the first six months.
Heat from the sun can make the “off-gassing” worse, so use a solar shade on your windshield. And dust the dashboard often, since the dust likely contains chemicals you’d rather get rid of.
You slather on sunscreen for sitting on the beach, but what about for sitting behind the wheel? While you can’t get sunburned through the glass (glass blocks skin-burning UVA rays), you still have to contend with cancer- and wrinkle-causing UVB rays. Windshields are treated to block these rays, but the side and rear windows aren’t, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Ever notice you have more wrinkles or “age spots” on the left side of your face? If you drive a lot, that may be why.
Apply a full-spectrum sunscreen before you hit the road. To protect your peepers, sunglasses are also a good idea.
If you get neck, shoulder or lower back pain while driving, you may need to adjust your seat and/or steering wheel.
- Make your knees slightly lower than your hips. This is challenging in some low-slung cars and those with bucket seats. Adjust whatever you need to adjust — seat height, seat pan tilt, distance to steering wheel — to get there.
- Lean just slightly back. An angle of 100 to 110 degrees, or just slightly reclined, puts the least amount of pressure on the lower back. If you’re leaning too far back, you may find yourself thrusting your head forward, which can hurt your neck.
- Scoot your seat up or back. You want your arms comfortably bent, and you shouldn’t need to lean forward. Without stretching out your leg, you should be able to press down the accelerator or brake pedal all the way with your whole foot, not just your toes. The center of the steering wheel should be about 10 to 12 inches from your chest.
- Move your hands often. Don’t stay in the “10 o’clock and 2 o’clock” position all the time; change your hand position frequently. If the steering wheel is too high for comfort, lower it.
- Relax. A death grip on the steering wheel can cause muscle tension. If you’re tense you may also lean forward at the waist, which is a recipe for pain.
On longer trips, take breaks. Get out and stretch.
Pre-portion healthy snacks
You’ve heard of mindless eating? Snacking behind the wheel is about as mindless as it gets, since your main focus is on the road (which is the real reason you shouldn’t eat while driving — it’s distracting and causes accidents).
If you must eat behind the wheel, instead of keeping a whole bag of chips or cookies within reach, place an appropriate-sized snack in a zip-close bag for the trip. Carrots and almonds are examples of smart choices.
Foods to avoid, and not just because of the calories but because they’re especially dangerous to eat while driving, include drippy foods like juicy hamburgers, spurting foods like jelly doughnuts, and hot beverages.
Remember that “handy” snacks like granola bars and “nutrition” or “energy” bars may have more calories and sugar than you assume. Check the label.
Find your zen
Even if you’re not prone to road rage, driving can be stressful. Doing it during rush hour can even temporarily raise your blood pressure.
To turn down the pressure, find ways to unclench. Leave extra (or at least enough) time to get where you’re going, play music you enjoy and practice deep breathing when a traffic jam gets your ire up. Get out of the way of aggressive drivers — trying to “teach them a lesson” by holding your ground simply isn’t worth it.