Thousands of drivers are suffering unnecessary injuries every day, but not as the result of drink-driving, speeding or accidents. It is because they sit still for long periods of time, causing long-term damage to the neck, back, arms, shoulders and knees.
How common are injuries through sitting?
According to research being carried out at Loughborough University, in Leicestershire, England, some 50% of all high mileage drivers suffer from lower back pain because of sitting for hours at a time.
Brian McIlwraith, who is an osteopath (specialising in car ergonomics) says: “Driving long distances is one of the worst things you can do to your body. There is a tendency for you to be forced into a slumped position, so your back is bent, putting pressure on the hips, lower back and intervertebral discs.
” He goes on to point out that other potential dangers include stretching to reach steering wheels or pedals, and the way you pull yourself out of your seat.
Adding to the litany of back problems, caused by driving, are the consequences of inactivity by just sitting all the time you are driving. Your muscles do absolutely no work while your calorie burning rate declines considerably, resulting in muscle loss and fat gain. And the more you sit, the more used to it you become so that any physical activity becomes an effort.
Those who drive for more than four hours a day or 25,000 miles a year are six times more likely to take sick leave for a back injury than those who drive less but at the same time those drivers' inactively causes their bodies to lose over 75% of their ability to remove harmful fats and LDL (the bad) cholesterol from the bloodstream, leading to a reduction in HDL (the good) cholesterol and raising the risk of heart disease.
What can you do?
You can do something about this inactivity when driving because there is a way to squeeze in a little exercise no matter where you are. Just make sure when driving that you only do these exercises when you have stopped, you are waiting in traffic or when it is absolutely safe to do them:
1. Tone that butt, and the gluteal muscles almost anywhere, by squeezing together your buttock muscles for 10 seconds and then releasing. Repeat 10 times.
2. Flatten your stomach by breathing out and pulling your stomach in towards your back as far as possible. Hold for six seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.
3. Squeeze your thighs together as hard as you can. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 10 times. If this seems too easy, you can increase the toning effect by squeezing something like a ball of a sweater between your legs.
4. Exercise your shoulders by keeping your arms and shoulders relaxed and holding lightly onto the steering wheel. Then lower your shoulders and pull back as far as you can, moving your shoulder blades together. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
5. Facial and breathing exercises (lift chin, deep breaths) and various stretching light exercises for upper body can be carried out if you are stopped in traffic, such as triceps: lift arm over head, bend as if to touch your back, guide upper arm slightly for deeper stretch. Be gentle with these movements, especially if you are not warmed up.
There is also a breathing exercise you can do whilst driving
1. Sit up straight. Exhale.
2. Inhale and, at the same time, relax the stomach muscles. Feel as though the stomach is filling with air.
3. After filling the stomach, keep inhaling. Fill up the middle of your chest. Feel your chest and rib cage expand.
As you begin to slowly exhale, make a humming sound and keep it up as long as possible. Pull your stomach muscles in, squeezing out a few more seconds of humming. Then relax. Practice for 2 to 3 minutes.