How to Keep a Long Commute from Wrecking Your Healthy Habits

By , Jillian Leo,
"I don’t have enough time to get in a good work out." "I’m too tired when I get home to cook dinner." I am guilty of these statements. I have a full-time job, a long commute, a personal blog, a house that needs cleaning, and a boyfriend who needs attention. Most importantly, I have a healthy lifestyle. That’s right – I have found a way to balance it all even with a demanding job and a 75-minute commute to and from work. I’ve adapted to the long commute and workday, and will reveal some helpful tips to keep your diet and workouts on track.
Once I landed my first job and was thrown into the real world, I realized that people were not kidding when they said, "There are not enough hours in the day". Sometimes, you can’t control the amount of hours you put in at work each day. Traffic and train delays will slow you down, too. Not everything is in your control, but leading a healthy lifestyle definitely is.
I recommend working out in the morning. Not only do you feel energized for the long day ahead, but also you are guaranteed to fit it into your day. If you end up having to stay late at work, you’ve already completed your workout for the day.
Even though sometimes I feel like crying when my alarm goes off at 4:45 AM, I always feel so much better after a workout. Exercising in the morning will give you the energy you need to get through the day. Thinking about the long commute and workday ahead can be stressful. Exercise will help relieve that feeling before it even starts! Below are some tips that can help you stay motivated.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you hit the snooze a few extra times. If you don’t get the full workout in that you had planned, it doesn’t matter. Every little bit counts! 30 minutes of activity per day is better than none at all.
  • Do some exercises in at home while watching your favorite TV shows. Multi-tasking is a great skill to have!
  • Get enough sleep. Set a time for you to be in bed. If you know you need your 8 hours, make it a point to lie down at least half an hour before that time.
  • If you don’t want to work out in the morning on a regular basis, try breaking it up. Do early morning workouts at the gym when you wake up feeling energized. If you know you’ll be out of work earlier one day, plan to do your workout afterwards.
  • Working out all five work week days can be exhausting. Give yourself a day off when you need to. Don’t forget about the weekends. You can make it up then.
  • Save your longer workouts for the weekends when you know you’ll have more time.
  • Have a backup plan in case you snooze too long on some mornings. Some days I just need the extra sleep. I will do a modified version of the workout that I had planned.
  • Once you get into a routine, it will come a lot easier. It took me months to finally get used to waking up early. It only takes 21 days to form a habit, so get moving! 
The main things that are important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle with little time are being organized and keeping a schedule. If you are not a to-do list or calendar type of person, you might need to make a few changes. For all of you list makers out there, this will be an easy transition.
  • Plan your workouts ahead of time. Know what you want to tackle each day so that you don’t waste any time.
  • Write down your plan. You are much more likely to follow through if you have them written down and can refer to them.
  • Schedule classes at the gym if they are offered at times that work for you. This way, it’s like an appointment where you wouldn’t want to be late or miss it.
  • Plan your at work meals and snacks. Knowing your options ahead of time prevents grabbing fast food or other unhealthy options.
  • Make grocery lists based on meals and snacks that you’ve planned for the week. When you know what you need, you will be in and out of the store quickly.
Prepping things ahead of time is a big time saver. I prep everything from my meals to my workout gear.
  • Take advantage of the weekends or your days off. Use one of these days to prepare for the work week ahead. Cook a large batch of whatever healthy recipe you’ve been eyeing up. You can portion it into plastic containers to take for lunch, and any leftovers can be frozen.
  • Prep any produce that you need for the week. Chop vegetables to be used as snacks at work or to sauté with dinner.
  • Get your errands done on the weekends. The last thing anyone wants to do after a day at the office and a long commute home is to stop at the grocery store.
  • Pack your lunch the night before. I put my non-refrigerated items in an insulated lunch bag and leave it on the counter. I put all cold items in the fridge together so that I can grab them quickly and add them to my bag in the morning.
  • Prep your workout necessities the night before. I put my gym clothes on my dresser so I can change quickly in the morning. I fill my water bottle and put it in the fridge so I can grab it and go. Lastly, I put a towel, keys, and my iPod right by the door, so they’re ready for me. These simple steps will save crucial morning time.
Planning your meals is key to keeping a consistent diet with a hectic schedule. There are quick, easy, and healthy options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks throughout the day.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As much as you may think there is no time in the morning, you should always make sure to fit it in, especially if your workout happens bright and early. I recommend protein smoothies. I know we would all love to sit and enjoy breakfast at the table, but sometimes that just can’t happen. I purchased a to-go tumbler so that I can whip up a quick smoothie in the blender and take it with me to enjoy on my commute to work. Check out my blog for some great smoothie recipes.
Another breakfast option is overnight oats. You may not have time to prepare hot oats in the morning so these are a great alternative. It is basically cold oatmeal, soaked overnight so it is ready to eat in the morning. It gives you the option to incorporate your favorite ingredients. You can even mix in protein powder, which is great after a strength training workout. You can add in flax meal or chia seeds for a nutrition boost. Check out recipes for overnight oats on my blog.
Planning your meals and snacks for work are important in keeping a consistent diet on a hectic time schedule. I pack my snacks with my lunch the night before.
  • Pack that lunch that you prepped on Sunday! It’s easy to grab fast food for lunch, but wouldn’t you feel so much better eating a healthy meal prepared from home?
  • Snack bars are a great mid morning snack. I look for those with either a high protein content, or a high fiber content. Be aware of the sugar content, as it can be high in certain snack bars.
  • Fruits, nuts, and yogurt are quick grab and go options. I pack an apple, a handful of almonds, and a fat free Greek yogurt almost every day. Veggies and hummus with whole wheat crackers or pita chips is another healthy snack option.
  • Keep an emergency snack in your desk. If you are stuck at work late and know that you have an hour commute before dinner, it’s good to have a healthy snack on hand. If I haven’t eaten for a while, I am likely to just eat the first thing I see or stop for fast food rather than of opting for a healthy dinner.
Dinner can be planned just as easy as lunch and snacks.
  • This is something you can prepare ahead of time as well. Make a big batch on the weekend so that you can just heat it up when you get home from work.
  • This is where those list-making skills come in. Plan the groceries you need to buy and plan the dinners you will make for the week so you can get cooking the minute you are home.
  • Dinner doesn’t have to be chicken, brown rice, and veggies. Of course, it’s a healthy option, but sometimes I eat a lighter dinner. Who says you can’t have a smoothie for dinner? Mine include protein in the form of whey powder, good fats from peanut butter, and one of my necessary servings of fruit for the day. Sometimes, I even put spinach in my smoothie for a serving of greens!
Finally, if you truly want to make it work, you will make the time. A few small changes will help streamline your daily routine.
Jillian works full time in the fashion industry in New York City while maintaining her personal blog, Sprinkle Massacre. She has a strong passion for health and fitness and is currently studying to become a certified personal trainer.
How long is your commute? Does it affect your healthy habits?

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KHALIA2 2/12/2020
Great Tips! Thanks for sharing this one!!!!! Report
KITTYHAWK1949 10/12/2019
Thanks. Retired so no longer do daily drives but when go on vacation can use this. Report
I love early morning exercise! Thanks for all the other tips too Report
Great subject to think about. Report
Planning is the key. I sometimes work 10-12 hr days plus and 1.5hr round trip drive. Plan your meals, lunches and work out times Report
my wife and I both prepare our weekly lunches on the weekend. We save from buying take out and we know the ingredients in our food. Good Luck with your goal of PT Report
This article has reached this Supercommuter Extraordinaire.

Guilty as Charged.

Commuting nearly 3 hours a day (on a good day) with three commute legs, using subway and regional rail. And the commute used to be even worse! But then, again, I used to walk a little at lunch. NO BANKER'S HOURS.

Enter: Job Shift. Now a dedicated desk jockey with nearly no lunch break!

With the concomitant weight regain came an increase in hunger and tiredness.

There should be a Supercommuters/Road Warriors team on SP.

But until then, I have this blog.

I focus on weekends to do chores and help caretake an elderly relative. Also, I don't do a whole lot of mail order. Don't live in a neighborhood where I could even get a delivery which isn't many times stolen from the hallway outside my apartment.

No, there are not enough hours in a day to be a dedicated Sparker. But I am trying.

The good thing about both yoga and ecstatic dance are that these are disciplines which, while they don't burn so many calories as other activities, they do make up for the way swimming laps used to make me feel [yup, no decent, clean pool near either work nor home] ... in a deep, spiritual, centered sense. Report
The ideas on here are great. I struggle with getting in exercise and the other things that life throws at you. One thing that has helped me is i set a time to "shut off" everything. Meaning I stop thinking about work, the house or anything else and just be me. It really helps keep me on track and great way to relieve stress. Report
I've got an 80 minute commute--mostly on high ways. I started using a 2 lb weight to do some curls in the car. I am surprised to see the positive effect those repitions are having on my arms and shoulders! Report
There's no law that says you have to work out before work or after. I always kept a pair of sneakers and socks at my desk so I could take a walk at lunchtime. We had a group of walkers who ate together in the cafeteria, then, instead of spending the whole lunch hour sitting down, we would walk around the parking lot for the rest of the hour. If there was no one who wanted to walk, I'd go by myself & listen to my mp3. Report
I am struggling with this myself. I am up at 4:30 in the morning and I'm out the door by 5:50 to get to work by 7:30. It's tough. Report
I'd consider myself lucky if I could sleep as late as 4:45... :P Report
I so agree with everything you posted! My commute can be as much as 2 hours one way on some days! (All it takes is an accident) Usually it's an hour. Recently I started working out in the mornings because I wanted to get back to running. My alarm goes off at 4:30 in order for me to get to the gym and get in at least 40 minutes on the dreadmill. I do that twice a week and work out evenings during the week strengh training. I can't see myself getting up at 4:30 everyday just yet LOL

As far as meals, I follow almost everything you mentioned except batch cooking. I just started eating leftovers the next day so I can't imagine eating something 3 or more days after I cook it, even if I freeze it. So I plan ahead, and plan to cook almost every other night.

My weight gain accually happened after I ended my 38 mile commute by train to downtown LA. Not only did I have to give up my "me" time on the train, I also did not benefit from my walk from the train station to the office and back every day. Public transportation is a great way to keep in shape and have extra time for reading, work, sleep, or just meditating while looking out the window. Report
Thanks for the article. Knowing others have very long commutes is great. I have an 86 mile commute to work up here in Alaska. Depending on the weather it's around 2ish hours. I've had this commute for 3 years. Personally, I love my commute. I didn't always, but one day on the ride home I decided to stop complaining about it and accept it as a choice that I could enjoy. Now those 4 hours are a haven. Time to think, listen to books, call my friends and family and wind down from the day.

I would agree that hyper organization is the key. When everything is prepped and ready, the week goes smoothly. If not, it's chaos. Sleep and exercise are a challenge, but I make it a focus.

My tips:
I NEVER have anything I shouldn't be eating in the car (at least within reach).

If you fight sleepiness - drink a lot of water. I find that it is impossible to fall asleep if your bladder is very full.

Books on tape are a gift - as long as I'm not bored, I'm usually not hungry.

If I'm falling off the wagon - I load up my iphone with health related podcasts and brainwash myself back on the wagon.

Consider enjoying your commute.

Thanks again for the post. Great tips. Report
I have an 1-1.5 hour commute each way. I have found that packing everything you need the night before critical in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You save precious minutes in the morning. I am currently trying to get my workouts in in the morning but have not managed it yet. I do get in my workouts though 5-6 days a week. Report
In 2003 I had my dream come true, in the form of purchasing my own home, the pay off was I went from a 20 minute commute to a 4-5 hour commute daily, I was tired all the time and packed on about 30 lbs. on an already obese body and when I hit my all time high in March of 2007, I said enough, made some medical decisions and in October 2007 I took control of my life again and part of that was hiring a personal trainer for one year, as it was a commitment that would get me in the gym 3x a week, though at times I was there 4 and 5x. A year and some later I had lost over 80 lbs., done my first 5k, walked it in 51 minutes and was proud of what I had achieved and then in early 2009 I lost my job of 13 years, along with a lot of other American's. I was devastated, but thought perhaps this was really an answer to my prayers in that perhaps I could find a job closer to home now. I made finding a job my full time job, in this time period other things were happening and I stopped going to the gym, but I did find a new job and it was closer to home, but is 2 hours a day. I had fits and starts with the gym, until this past year I put on 17 lbs. and had to buy a bigger size for the first time in 4 years. . . needless to say I knew what the problem was and my commute was not it, it was excuses and so I rejoined the gym and decided that since I am a morning person, I would have to work it back into my life before I went to work. . . so, much like you, I am up at 4:45 in the morning, as my normal work schedule is 8 to 4. I generally prepare what I am going to wear to work and put it in my car the night before, as when I don't I'm subject to forgetting pertinent items, if you get my drift (lol). It does cut about 20 minutes off my morning commute because not too many cars are on the road at 5 a.m. (lol) and when I'm done, I feel a sense of accomplishment and I get into work. I am also pretty consistent about bringing my own food to work, including healthy snacks, which is not to say I don't indulge every now and again, but with my sweat equity I find myself making less impulsive choices. What it really boils down to is knowing yourself well enough to make the time for yourself and realize in the end, everyone benefits from our choosing to be healthy. Report
A great blog and some very good ideas that I will be putting to use. Thank You. Report
I have a commute of about an hour. Since I have to get up so early for that, and since I like to workout in my bedroom, morning workouts don't work for me. My husband doesn't have to get up as early. He is very accommodating when I get home, though. I greet him and the dogs, then I'm off to work out. Afterwards, I start (or finish if he's started it for me) dinner, then hop in the shower.

It's worked for me for almost two years now. You just have to find what works for you. Report
Thank you for your comments and ideas. I am not a commuter, but I am a flight attendant and my schedule is crazy and makes it so hard to actually eat. You have given me some great ideas! Thanks again!! Report
No a long commute but I have so many kids activities all the time! You are an inspiration! Report
really enjoyed this blog! thanks!!! Report
Great inspiration to get the morning going! I just bookmarked your blog-- can't wait to get home tonight to check it out more thoroughly! Report
This is a great blog. I am just starting a new job with a long commute and I know I need to change my habits and schedule in order to stay on track with good nutrition and enough exercise. Thanks! Report
I used to wake up early to exercise before work too but now 4:45 am is when I wake so I can get to work. I am doing evenings and weekends and exhaustion! But you're right I have a great week if lunches are packed and dinner is planned Report
Only 75 minutes each way? I'd *love* a commute that short. And exercising in the morning? I get up at 4 to make it to work on time. Still, since I started on the SP journey, I've given much higher priority to fitness (flexibility as well as cardio and strength), healthy eating, weight loss, and meditation. Trying to be a superwoman and do it all means sleep still suffers, but I'm working on that, too. Report
I have a long commute every day too and leave my house at 5:30. Since I am not a morning person, I atually prefer working out in the evenings and have made it through some workouts that I didn't think I could. I am fortunate to commute with my husband who gets our breakfast and lunch together and makes coffee in the morning. You had some great ideas that I will try! Thanks!! Report
what a great blog. i have a long commute too and have for 20 years. i manage to make it work, although at times i just get so frustrated it scares me. lol.... it is usually when work is going badly. congrats on your success, you obviously have had a great plan and worked that plan. thanks for sharing, i know there are tons of commuters out there who need a few tips just like these. kat Report
I don't have a long commute, but I work long hours so these are great tips for my situation also. Thanks. Report
really enjoyed this blog! thanks!!! Report
I have a long commute to work also. I was trying to figure it all out and this article really help me see it clearer. Thanks a bunch for sharing. Report
Wow, sounds like me when I was working. I still do a lot of the prep ahead meal things now for my hubby. And it makes it work we get to spend moretime in the evening before he goes to bed. He has to get up for work at 445 and I will get up with him mostly for support and pack his lunch and get his clothes and make coffee while he is in the shower. He in turn takes our 65 pound sheppard, pit, boxer, chow mix puppy for his ealry morning potty. I then get to go back to bed. LOL Report
My commute isn't too bad right now - I have had worse I used to have a job (which ironically I loved except for certain aspects of it which I stupidly allowed to influence my rash decision to quit it ) I had to get up at either 2:5 or 3:15 in the morning drive an hour west of my city to get there in time to do what I had to do ( I don't want to go into detail as it was a government agency) which was regulated by the world meteorological union, hence the odd hours. I got off work at either 11:30 or 12:30 and generally went straight to bed I was so BAGGED, It would have been a LOT more enjoyable had I NOT had the long drive. That was the one thing I relished when I went to the high Arctic to do the same job (same employer- no the same wage) just got up and got dressed grabbed my binder and walked DOWN THE HALLWAY !!!!!! Report
Girl, you are amazing! I am tired just reading about your day. How on earth can you get 8 hours sleep? 4.45? I could not do it, not even when I was younger.
You are very well organized, but that long commute is awful. I guess you can plan, write shopping lists,take care of mail, or even read a book if you want.Somebody should put treadmills on the trains for working girls.Maybe a Gym.
I hope you get a well deserved rest sometimes.You deserve it! Report
My commute is long, but it actually helps me maintain good health habits! I bike to work everyday. I've been doing it for about 4 months now, and I love it. It's 20 miles, roundtrip. I am planning to keep going into the winter as long as I can stand it (in Washington D.C.). I've already started buying the clothes I'll need to keep warm.

For breakfast, I usually have coffee in a to-go cup. It stays warmer that way while I get stuff ready and sip on it. I have toast with something low fat and high-protein (turkey breast, tuna fish, yogurt, or an egg).

For lunch, I pack one of those Rubbermaid containers with 3 compartments. I fill the whole thing with a layer of organic spring mix, then I add bread, another low fat, high-protein item, and a fruit. The compartments serve as a visual reminder to add variety and balance to my meals.

For dinner, I have whatever my family is having (my husband cooks), minus anything that might be high in fat.

If I need a snack, I try to drink low fat milk. If I'm on my bike and desperately hungry after a long day at work, I eat a Clif bar. I usually pack a few of those in the pockets of my Camelbak for just such emergencies. When I do that, I usually follow it with a smaller dinner since I'm typically not very hungry after that.

All that biking really helps me sleep too. Around this time of the evening, my eyes suddenly start to tear up, my mind starts to drift, and I have a hard time keeping my eyes open -- a good cue to get to bed.

Speaking of which, good night! Report
While in this economic climate it probably isn't possible, but I've always gotten a job close to where I live. I am EXTREMELY grateful to live 1 mile from my full-time job. I know that this will change when they build the new building, but I am very happy for my short (shorter than normal?) commute. My 2 days a week part-time job (my fun one) however is a 15 mile commute, a 20 min drive. Report
I too have a long commute - it's an hour on the train plus a 25 minute walk. I could shave 10 minutes off by taking the bus instead of walking (and I do sometimes if the weather is really terrible or I have a LOT of stuff to carry) but I use that as an opportunity to get some extra exercise. The gym is on the way if I walk too - so I can go in the morning on my way to work, and even if I don't have a chance to get a workout in, I do still get some exercise. I cook all lunches and dinners for the week on the weekend, and just reheat throughout the week (I use a lot of frozen pre-chopped vegetables to go with meals), and I always put the breakfasts, lunches, and workout clothes out the night before. Being organised is the only way to make it work. My other tip is to work while commuting, if you can, so that you can leave work a little earlier. My boss doesn't mind if I start doing emails and reading from the train, so I can spend a little less time at work. All the tips in this blog post are good - they're basically how I make it work. Report
Your blog touched such a connection in me.

I used to have a long commute, 90 mintes each way, and gained even more weight than I was carrying at that point. It was eating in the car, because I was so tired I was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. Bad stuff.

One thing I learned during those days was to exercise in the morning, which I still continue. And, I have conditioned myself not to need the alarm to get up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning--of course, with my 3 children grown and independent, I can get to bed earlier.

I do some of the preparatory things you mentioned, but you gave me some good ideas to add on.

I do find that I need to be super organized--still at a high stress job with lots of extra hours, with household responsibilities--I clean my whole 3,000 square foot house by myself--and activities that I need for my well being--playing the guitar, and of course posting on Sparkpeople and other useful sites.

Anyway thank you, a meaningful and hopeful blog. Report
Thank you Thank you Thank you, I too have a long commute, add in kids, pets and fall sports and time is a rare and valuable commodity. It makes me feel energized and positive to know "it can be done"!
Great ideas! Thank you for the reminder that a habit can be formed in 21 days!

I am impressed with your organizational abilities! I hope to keep improving in this area!

Pat Report
Wow, you really have it down and thank you so much for sharing it all. :D It's awesome to know that it can be done and all you have to do is figure out your own routine! Super awesome post and definitely saving it to my favorites! Report
That is a lot of great ideas! Thanks for posting this! Report
I don't work outside my home. So no commute, still I try and change things up with my morning workouts. Saturday I take later classes...11am. And occasionally during the week I don't take my usual 9:30am class but instead take a 10:30 or evening just jump on one of the exercise machines in the afternoon or evening hours. It actually helps me not to recent morning workouts. I get up early enough to get ready the kids, my elerly parent & myself. Report
Great tips here Jillian...and I don't even have a long commute! Prepping the night before -- for all things and also prepping dinners over the weekend, doesn't take that much time and somehow it saves more time than it takes. Go figure. I'll be incorporating your tips here at home and having my kids impliment them too. Morning chaos is just no fun. Report
WOW. Respect! Report
Working out in the morning just won't work for me when I'm working day shifts. I get up at 4:50 am just to get to work by 6am! I do try to bike to work - its 1.25 miles uphill. With the location of the parking structure at my condo and the parking structure at work, its about the same time-wise. I also just have a hard time getting moving in the morning. Fortunately I've got a Zumba instructor I love, and 2 days of the week she teaches at the school right outside my condo. I have to travel for the other 3 days, but I love the class so much I do it when I'm not working nights.

@HANOVERLADY - I've worked some crazy hours, so I feel your pain. What I would probably try to focus on doing would be to do a longer workout the mornings of the 1-9pm shift. And on Tuesday and Thursday, take a nap after work! You're right in that you just aren't going to get 8 hours with the short turn around, so listen to your body and get a power nap in after work. Then maybe do a lighter workout after your nap. Good luck!

Up till May 9th which was my last day working I incorporated extra walking with my pedometer on and when I had to go into big buildings(the suntrust building has 25 flrs.),I would ride up on the elevators but then put my iPod on and sprint down all 26 flrs in the stairwell.In about 5-6 wks I drop down from2XL-1XL and I kept going till I got to a lg top.I sho miss those days cause now I do water aerobics and it's not the same,I've picked back up 8lbs since being off work but I'm not giving up.Don't plan to.
I'm struggling with balancing sleep and exercising. On Monday and Wednesday I work 1-9 PM. The rest of the week I work 9-5:30. My commute is about an hour long. On my "night" schedules, I get home about 10 PM. In order to get in 8 hours of sleep, I'd have to go to sleep right away (which isn't going to happen) and sleep up to 6 AM, which makes it hard to get in much exercising before I have to leave for work.

I prefer to exercise in the morning for many of the reasons that Jillian mentions. When I get up and hit the gym, I get up at 5 AM.

Any ideas? My work schedule is not negotiable. Thanks. Report
You've touched on two things that have worked for me for many long years - preppring anything and everything, and working out first thing in the morning. Luckily, my husband likes to be in the kitchen, so food prep and advance meal cooking is also "us" time! Report
I too have a long commuting time... I have to be out of the house by 6:10 if I want to make it to work for 8 am. I do little in the morning. I would have to wake up at 4:00 am to do a real workout in the morning. So instead I try to leave a 6 so I can walk the 1.7km to the train station instead of taking the bus then I go all the way to the terminus so I can again walk to work (1.35km). I could take the next train but if I do, I have to be out by 6:30 and don't really have time to do anything.
I started running in May. I am racing this weekend for a 10km. I managed to get my 3 running trainings a week most weeks. when it is running night, I change as soon as I get home so I will go out. If I don't, I will generaly stay in and do nothing. By putting my running gear on, it is a constant reminder that I have to go out and run tonight. So far it is working... I guess it is a matter of finding your own balance Report