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Is driving in the Valley commute affecting your health?

Posted: 11:33 PM, Jul 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-10 05:33:49Z

We know all that sitting during your morning and afternoon commutes isn't great on your body, but what's happening on the inside?

"You have a nice mellow resting heartbeat rate of about 58 beats per minute," says exercise psychologist Lucy Williams minutes after greeting me at Banner Heart Hospital.

I am instantly thinking; I cannot be a good candidate for a story about stressful driving and the effects on your body.

"I measured your heart rate, your blood pressure, as well as your oxygen saturation, which we wouldn't expect that that's going to change at all. But your heart rate and your blood pressure absolutely can change under stress," she informs me.

Williams reveals, "Stress is probably the most overlooked risk factor because we can't quantify it."

With that, we are off to battle traffic and stress, in the afternoon rush hour.

Within minutes, my heart rate is faster. And then, a lesson in how much "mind matters" as we pass a significant spot in my life.

"My heart rate should go up right now, because this is where I had all three kids," I joke as we pass a different hospital.

"Actually, yep, you're up about ten beats right now," Williams confirms. "How powerful the brain is right?"

The commute is nothing remarkable. In fact, during the entire uneventful drive, my heart rate barely rises. I feel calm. But, something more concerning silently stays high.

"From sitting at rest, your blood pressure has gone up quite a bit, just driving, and we haven't even had anything stressful yet," she warns.

Although in real life, my commute is short, doing this every day would take a real toll on my body.

Twenty minutes later, once back at the station, my full results are revealed.

"Considering we had a pretty stress-free drive, you seemed calm, you were talking, you never felt overly stressed, and we really did see a blood pressure response similar to during an exercise session," she tells me.

But then, incredibly, she prescribes something that works!

"Sit here, and just take some nice easy calming breaths, as opposed to running in and starting a stressful day."

Two minutes that few of us rarely practice -- and what a difference!

"Your blood pressure is good... it's about the same as when we first got in the car, but not quite as good as sitting in a chair."

So what can you do if you cannot shorten your commute?

  • Don't clench the wheel.
  • Listen to something you enjoy on the drive. (Remember the power of thought...)
  • Take deep relaxing breaths.
  • Take a 10-minute walk after driving to try to work all that stress hormone out.