Car stress busters

Author: Canadian Living

You're stuck in the car in traffic. Your stress is building. Your time is wasting. Obviously, your main job is driving safely, protecting yourself and fellow motorists, not figuring out how to get a workout. But even when your concentration is on the road, your foot on the pedal, and your hands on the steering wheel, many muscles are just going along for the ride without having to participate. Even with limited motion, that leaves some opportunity for activity. And you'll find you become more alert mentally and physically when you manage to strengthen, release, and stretch a few muscles as you drive (or, even better, stop driving). Rather than feeling cramped, tired, and stressed, your trip can leave you feeling stronger and more rested. Work these exercises into your driving routine when they feel appropriate and safe - but do not let your mind or eyes wander from the road!

Isometric Contractions Unlimited. How many body parts can you exercise and still drive safely? Try isometric exercises, which means contracting the muscles without taking them through a range of motion. You can tighten your thighs without moving your leg, for example, isometrically contracting the quadriceps (front of the thighs), holding the contraction for a few seconds, then releasing it. Other areas that respond well to isometric contractions in the car are the buttocks, upper arms, shoulders and abdominals.

Ab Alert. You can give yourself an abdominal workout and strengthen your postural muscles throughout your drive. Sit up tall, pull your abs in and lift your chest and rib cage. Ah, perfect posture. As a constant reminder and to make this a habit, adjust your rear view mirror so you can see out of it only in this position. Keep your abs alert by pulling them in and lifting the ribcage as you exhale, then releasing slowly as you inhale.

Tension Terminator. Most of us have areas we tend to tense when we're driving, such as the neck, jaw or shoulders. Identify your tension-holding area, and consciously relax it every few minutes. If you can reach it while you're driving, massage the area frequently.

Shoulder Shrugs. When our shoulders get tense, they tend to creep up towards our ears, stressing shoulders and neck even more. To counter this, intensify the tension, then release it this way: Hunch your shoulders up towards your ears, making your neck disappear like a turtle's, then push the shoulders way down, lengthening your neck. Brace your hands against the steering wheel for more intensity. Do this 3 times, then leave the shoulders in the "down" position. Your shoulders and neck should feel greatly relieved.

Arm and Hand Stretch. Do you find you're white-knuckling your commute by gripping the steering wheel? This doesn't get you to your job any faster, but it does tense your hands, wrists and arms - just what you don't want before a day of work, especially if you work at a computer. Reach towards the windshield with one arm (the other arm is continuing to steer), then circle the wrist in both directions. Relax the hand on the steering wheel and open the fingers, then close them into a fist, then open them again. Change arms. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed throughout these exercises.

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Excerpted with permission from Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300+ Quick and Easy Exercises You Can Do Whenever You Want by Joan Price. Joan is a fitness expert, speaker and author whose website ( offers plenty of motivatiing exercise information and tools to help you reach your goals.

Flexible Face. Many of us clench the jaw without realizing it as a reaction to tension, but actually, this only makes stress worse. Stretch your facial muscles by opening up your face with an exaggerated look of surprise - eyes wide, jaw wide, mouth stretched wide open - then release and relax. Do this whenever your commute drives you crazy. Caution: the driver in front of you looking in the rear-view mirror will get a startling view of your facial contortions, so either avoid this move in heavy traffic or at least smile like a normal person afterwards. You might also avoid this exercise when a highway patrol person is alongside.

Red Light Releases. Stop lights might be aggravating when you're in a hurry, but they're fine opportunities to stretch a few muscles. Put the car in park and try one of these at each light:
Neck: Slowly drop your head to one side towards your shoulder, then straighten up and drop it to the other side. Alternate sides until the light is about to change.
Back: Round your back, then arch it. Alternate arching and rounding.
Leg: Point your foot to stretch your shin, then flex it to stretch your calf. Alternate pointing and flexing. If you have room, straighten out your leg.
Feet: Rotate your ankles. If you have room in your shoes, wiggle your toes.

Shoulder Ripple. At a stop light or in a super-slow traffic jam, roll and ripple the shoulders. Next, hold on to the bottom of the seat with one hand and pull, stretching the shoulders downward. Change arms. Then push both shoulders back by squeezing the shoulder blades towards each other. Relax the shoulders completely for the rest of the trip (or, if you can't, repeat this exercise).

Don't drive to work. Park your car at the location of a stop you want to make after work - post office, coffee house, bagel shop - rather than at your own workplace. Hoof it to work, then back to your after-work spot. If the force is with you, your car will be where you left it. Alternative: leave your car where it's easy to find parking, even if - especially if - it's a mile or two away from work.

Get out and stretch a minute. You've reached your destination (finally!). Take a minute to revitalize with this 60-second stretch as soon as you get out of your car:
• Stretch your arms up towards the sky, alternating high reaches.
• Hold your arms horizontally out to the side and circle them back a few times, then forward.
• Roll your shoulders back and clasp your hands behind you, pulling back until your shoulders release.
• Extend your arms out to the sides again, and twist your upper body very slowly from the waist. (If you have a bad back, however, pivot the feet and turn the whole body instead of twisting at the waist.)

Mobile Locker Room. Keep a gym bag in your car packed with any clothing or gear you need for your favorite spontaneous sport: basketball, tennis racquet, skates, walking/running shoes, sweats, swimsuit, towel, Frisbee, you name it. Instead of driving straight home after work, stop for a fitness fix.

Excerpted with permission from Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300+ Quick and Easy Exercises You Can Do Whenever You Want by Joan Price. Joan is a fitness expert, speaker and author whose website ( offers plenty of motivatiing exercise information and tools to help you reach your goals.

Scenic Stretch.
If you have a drive that lasts more than an hour or two, plan for a stop to get out and stretch your limbs for a few minutes. Ideally, stop the car at a scenic spot with a breathtaking view. Don't just stand and look - stretch and look! But even if the view isn't terrific, the stretch will feel great and improve the view (mentally as well as visually). Following are 5 minutes of stretches you can do against your car. First, roll down the window on one car door, then shut the door so you can hold onto the sill. (If you'd like to get as far away from your car as possible, you can do these stretches against a tree.) Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Back and Arm Stretch. Stand arm's length away from the car door. Lean forward at the waist and hold onto the sill of the open window. Your body should be bent at the hips at about a 90 degree angle. Slightly bend your knees and push your weight behind you, breathing deeply.
Chest and Shoulder Stretch. Turn around so your back is towards the car door and you're holding onto the sill behind you. Roll your shoulders back and lean your body forward away from the car, chest thrust forward.
Calf Stretch. Face the car and hold the sill with both hands, standing close to the car. Bend the left leg slightly as you step the right leg back as far as it can go with the heel pressed down. You'll feel a stretch in the right calf. Then bring the right leg forward a few inches and slightly bend the right knee, keeping the heel down. You'll feel the stretch go lower in the calf. Repeat both positions with the left leg.
Quad Stretch. Face the car and hold the sill with the left hand. Reach back with the right hand and bend the right knee with the foot behind you until you can hold onto your right ankle (or sock, or pant leg, if you can't reach the ankle). Try to keep the thighs together and straighten the back. You'll feel the stretch in the front of the right thigh. Repeat with the left leg.
Hip Flexor Stretch. Step back with the right leg. Keeping the left knee bent and directly over the ankle, slide the right leg back until you sink into a lunge, right toes on the ground, right heel lifted. Bend the right knee just to your point of comfort. Don't let the left knee go forward of the foot to avoid stress to the knee. Change legs.
Hamstring Stretch. Stand about 3 to 4 feet behind the car. Put your right heel on the bumper, keeping a very slight bend in the knee. Lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of the right thigh. Repeat with the left leg.
Lower Back Stretch. Stand close to the car, touching it with your left hand for support. Bring your right knee up towards the chest until you can hook your right arm underneath it. Pull the leg in closer until your lower back stretch says, "Ummmm." Repeat with the left leg. (If this position is awkward, prop your lifted foot against the car and lean forward, rounding your back.)

Excerpted with permission from Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300+ Quick and Easy Exercises You Can Do Whenever You Want by Joan Price. Joan is a fitness expert, speaker and author whose website ( offers plenty of motivatiing exercise information and tools to help you reach your goals.

Car comfort
Increase your driving comfort and decrease fatigue and stress with these tips from fitness expert and lifestyle coach David Essel, M.S.(
• Adjust your neck rest, seat, and steering wheel at the optimum positions for comfort and safety.
• Sit upright; don't slump. Sitting hunched puts stress on the spine and neck, and leads to backache and fatigue. Sit tall with your spine, neck and head aligned and your shoulders back. (Make this a habit when you're standing, too.)
• If your car seat does not permit you to sit up comfortably, roll a towel behind your lower back, or buy a commercial, contoured back rest.
• Try the beaded seat covers. These not only feel good, they increase air circulation and let perspiration evaporate instead of sticking you to the seat.
• Invest in high quality sunglasses to avoid glare and eye fatigue. Get the kind that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays.
• Wear shoes that breathe and allow you to wiggle your toes.
• Wear loose-fitting, non-binding clothing, preferably beltless. Dressing in layers lets you adjust to temperature changes. If you wear shorts on a hot day, put a towel under your legs to avoid sticking to the seat.
• Wear sunblock if you drive with an open window.

Mental fitness
Relaxing your mind without losing your focus is essential for deflecting travel stress and keeping your tension level down. Here are some strategies:
• Leave 10 to 15 minutes early for every hour of expected travel.
• Listen to soothing music to calm you, recorded books to stimulate your mind, or vibrant music to energize you, whichever you need.
• The next time you want to honk the horn at someone, count to 10 slowly first. Then don't honk.
• Face a tension-provoking situation with this philosophy: If you can do something to control it, do so. If it's out of your control, release it. Let it go.
• Breathe! Slow down your breathing to relax. Never hold your breath!

Fit wheels, will travel: A guide to healthy car trips
Car travel is great for seeing the sights, traveling according to your own schedule, and stopping where and when you want, but sitting in a car for hours is physically uncomfortable and often emotionally stressful. If you finish your vacation day feeling cramped, tense and aching, what's the point? Your vacation is supposed to revitalize you - not drain your energy and send you home more tired than when you left. By incorporating fitness minutes - and good eating habits - into your trip, you'll return stronger, healthier, and more rested.

Rest stop romps. Stop for brisk exercise activity breaks every hour or two. Choose a rest stop or scenic spot along the way, or head into town (whatever town you might be passing through) in search of a park, playground, quiet country road - anywhere you can get out of the car and move around vigorously. If you plan your exercise break ahead, you'll have more options: Keep a Frisbee, jump rope, rubber ball, or basketball in the car, for example. Be sure to wear walking or running shoes. Even 5 minutes of activity will invigorate you mentally as well as physically. Thirty minutes will make you feel like a new person.

Pedal sightseeing. Put a bike rack on your car and carry bicycles. Each time you pass through an interesting (and not heavily trafficked) town, explore it by bicycle. You'll get plenty of exercise and see sights that you'd miss in the car. You'll also travel longer distances than you can on foot. Be sure to carry a good bicycle lock.

Prepare for hunger pangs. Rather than relying on what you'll find at rest stops, plan ahead and carry healthful, low-fat foods. Eating the high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar snacks you usually find on the road will leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and irritable - and send you home with extra pounds on your belly. Before you leave on your trip, pack some nutritious foods that travel well in a cooler: fresh and dried fruits, cut-up fresh vegetables, frozen bagels. Other nutritious snacks that don't need cooling are dry cereal (great as an out-of-the-box snack), rice cakes, and sunflower seeds. Also carry plenty of water.

Picnic power. If you're traveling with a companion, and especially with children, pack for a picnic along the way - much more fun than visiting a chain restaurant that's just the same as the one you have at home. And a picnic will let the kids run around instead of making them sit in a restaurant after sitting in a car for hours. Instead of leaving a restaurant bored, cranky and crazy from lack of activity, the kids are likely to be cheerful, and maybe even tired enough to sleep in the car.

Excerpted with permission from Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book: 300+ Quick and Easy Exercises You Can Do Whenever You Want by Joan Price. Joan is a fitness expert, speaker and author whose website ( offers plenty of motivatiing exercise information and tools to help you reach your goals.


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Car stress busters