Long commutes behind the wheel take a physical, mental and financial toll, but here’s what you can do about it

Ever had a morning when you had to navigate a commute so bad — with traffic moving at a crawl and fender-benders slowing everything down even more — that you spent the first 30 minutes at work shaking it off and getting your blood pressure back under control?

Not much productivity there.

Long commutes behind the wheel take a toll — physically and mentally on you, and financially on your employer. And there are plenty of long commuters out there.

In 2019, the average one-way commute in the United States increased to a new high of 27.6 minutes, according to the U.S. Census. A record 9.8 percent of commuters reported daily one-way commutes of at least one hour.

Nashville commuters spent an average of 25 minutes for a one-way commute in 2019, according to the Census. That’s just an average, meaning that some commuters are on the road for much longer; some less. It probably doesn’t help that four of the 100 most jammed-up traffic bottlenecks in the country are right here in Nashville.

Long commutes cause poor health and lower productivity, according to a British study of more than 34,000 workers. Those commuting less than half an hour to work gain an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more, the study says.

Commuters with longer travel time are 33 percent more likely to suffer from depression, 37 percent more likely to have financial concerns and 12 percent more likely to report work-related stress, the study said.

And longer commutes hurt both employees and employers by hindering productivity and creativity, which in turn squelches innovation, according to a study by Andy Wu, a Harvard Business School assistant professor of business administration.

The good news? There are ways to make the commute better:

  • Let someone else do the driving. Results show that driving is the most stressful mode of transportation when compared to others, according to one study.
  • Give up the solitary drive and try rideshare. The morning commute ranks dead last in the enjoyment of everyday activities, says one study; however, people felt much less negative about the morning commute when they were accompanied by someone, researchers found. And you’ll be in a better frame of mind when you get to work. Employers like that.
  • Use public transportation. Commuting is less unpleasant when it’s a more social experience, researchers have found. People reported a more enjoyable commute when they spoke to fellow commuters while using public transportation, an American Psychological Association study revealed.
  • Stretch before driving home. After sitting in an office chair all day, give your body a break before settling in behind the wheel. Gently bend backward to stretch spine muscles. Pull your shoulders back to open up the chest and shoulders. Reach toward the sky to stretch your hips, shoulders, back and other joints and muscles.
  • Walk as much as possible. Take a lunchtime stroll near the office. Use stairs rather than the elevator. Park in the farthest reaches of the parking lot.
  • Learn something new. Apps, audiobooks and podcasts offer a range of new skills, such as learning a new language, business courses, or learning about different cultures.