No one loves sitting in the car for long periods of time. Whether it’s a daily commute or a summer road trip, bodies need to move!
The average commute time for Americans is more than 25 minutes. That means lots of people are spending much more than 25 minutes in a car each morning and again each evening. Likewise, the Great American Road Trip could mean driving a few hours away from home or, if you travel with my dad, it could mean 10-plus hours each day in the car with stops only when someone (not always me) simply can’t hold it any longer and simply Must. Have. A. Potty. Stop.
In either case, there are ways to use that time to exercise in the car. While you can’t run a marathon, you can increase blood flow, feel more energized, and even feel more alert for driving. Movement stimulates the endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel good. After a few rounds of these exercises in the car, two to three sets to your favorite music, everyone will be happy, limber and content for a few more miles.
Here are seven exercises you can do in the car.
1. Kegels in the Car
Kegels are one of the most important exercises for women in cars, particularly those who have had kids. Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, so they help you ‘hold it in’ longer – very useful for road trips run by people like my dad who seems to have an iron bladder.
To get started, isolate your pelvic floor muscles by stopping your pee midstream (this is best accomplished when NOT in your car). Then, in the car, tighten those muscles, hold for 5-10 seconds, then relax for five seconds. Do the exercise 10-15 times. You can perform this whether driving or sitting in the car.
2. Butt Clenches
This is for men, women, kids – anyone with a butt. Tighten your butt muscles for a few seconds, then relax. You can do this over and over, or to really spice things up, intersperse with kegels. Those mom jeans are not going to know what to think of your new firm butt.
3. Teach Your Kids While They Move
If your kids are getting squirmy in the back seat, show them how to roll their shoulders forward, then roll them back. Make it educational by turning it into a counting game. Vary it by counting up to 10, then down from 10. For an extra challenge, throw in a bilingual lesson. Teach them to count in Spanish or French. [if you have forgotten what you learned in high school, you can probably find the numbers on your smartphone].
For a more “advanced” workout, shrug your right, then your left shoulder – which also teaches kids the difference between their left and right.
4. Head, Shoulders, Knees, And Toes
This simple song can lead to all types of movement. Just as the song implies, begin with the head and then move your hands from your head to your shoulders, knees, then toes. Even a toddler in a car seat can have fun trying to reach the important parts.
To ratchet up the fun, give each person a turn singing the song–in any order. For example, try toes, stomach, nose or knees, toes, waist, shoulders, head. The faster you sing, the more movement and energy everyone will use.
5. Water Bottle Challenge
This requires the refillable water bottles you already have in the car. Instead of drinking from them, use them as weights to get those arms moving.
The movements can be done while safely strapped in your seat belt. Perform each activity two to three times to equal a set. Turn on your favorite music and begin.
- Holding the bottle parallel to the car floor, bend the bottle toward the chest.
- If there is enough room in the car, stretch the arms out to the sides and bend at the elbow.
- To work the back of the arms, lift the bottle overhead. Bend your arms to a 90-degree angle, return to the original position.
- To rev up the interaction, take turns passing the bottle back and forth stretching your arms as you reach for the bottle. This will also add some waist movement.
6. Put Your Face Into It
Did you know your face has more than 50 muscles? Often neglected, exercising the face by making silly faces is fun and stimulating. Perform each activity 10 times.
- Begin with a smile, but a really pronounced smile. One that stretches the skin and tingles your cheeks.
- Move your mouth left to right, hold the stretch on each side to feel the tension and stretch the muscle.
- Fill your cheeks with air, then relax your cheeks.
- Pretend you are blowing a bubble in the air.
- Crinkle up your nose, and then relax.
- Gently, bend your neck to the left and to the right.
7. Alphabet Game
You can sing the alphabet with your kids – and you can ‘write’ the letters with your feet. This is an ankle strengthening exercise, but it also helps kids learning the shapes – and sounds – of letters. The game only works if you have a driver and adult passenger.
And remember, if you are constantly turning your head to watch your little ones circle their feet and write – try to turn a few times the other direction. You might not be able to see as well, but your neck will thank you.
*Bonus Tip for Exercising on a Road Trip: Run
If you really get itchy to move, take turns running the last few miles to your destination. This only works if you aren’t driving to an evening party or a wedding. But if, say, you are spending the weekend in the country, run the last five miles along the country roads. You can arrive at your final destination energized – and sweaty.