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Your Car + Your Commute = A Visit to Your Doctor
Spending hours sitting in your car can also cause back and other muscle problems and takes time away from more active, healthier pursuits such as walking or going to the gym.
The ill effects of commuting are increasingly showing up in local doctors' offices. Squillante, the Fredericksburg orthopedic surgeon, said he has had surgery patients say that the best thing about a back operation was the forced hiatus from their daily commute during recovery.
Patients are desperate to find solutions and swear by certain types of car-seat pillows or jury-rigged lumbar supports, Squillante said. "There are people who feel they've discovered the miracle pillow," he said, though he said he doesn't know of any sure-fire solution.
Robert Cervero, chairman of the department of city and urban planning at the University of California at Berkeley, has studied the relationship between the design of communities and physical activity. He said rising rates of obesity and some types of diabetes contribute to the problems facing commuters. But so, too, do the lifestyle choices -- and land-use decisions -- that result in long commutes.
Caryn Hutson works for a property firm in the District but lives in her "dream home" in Haymarket, some 40 miles away. She leaves the house at 5:30 in the morning and gets back at 6:30 p.m. -- if traffic on Interstate 66 cooperates.
"It's just tiring," Hutson said of her daily drill. Someone who was never much for caffeine, she now bolsters herself with coffee in the morning and soda for the evening rush. But by midweek, "I'm running on fumes. That's the biggest toll. It's not enough sleep."
One of the reasons her family moved to Haymarket was for their children. But the tough commute also takes away family time. And year after year, as traffic gets worse and worse, the time in the car gets longer and longer.
"It's tough as a parent," she said. "You want to give your children everything they want, but there are limitations to that because of the time it takes."
Hutson used to have a 10-minute commute when she lived and worked in Tysons Corner. She recalls that time as "living in la-la land."
"I was able to find time and energy to work out regularly," she said. "And I don't now. I would have to wake up at 3 a.m. to get a workout."