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3 Unexpected Health Benefits from Reducing Car Use

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about my lifestyle. All areas of it. In particular, my choice to be car-free has been a popular topic. Besides the popular, “How can you do that and live?”, there’s also the, “But what do you do if you want to leave town?”, as well as the always fun, “How do you do your grocery shopping?”

While I do enjoy having conversations with folks about this, one of my favorite questions is, “So, are you, like, healthier now?”

Why yes. Yes, I am, thank you for asking.

While my family’s original intent behind saying goodbye to our cars was purely financial, it’s the other benefits that have surprised us. And what we didn’t expect was that beyond financial health, it would actually benefit our physical and mental health as well. And here’s the thing — these benefits are available to everyone, even if they don’t completely eliminate cars from their lives. You could experience these even by just reducing how often you use your car by a tiny amount.

Here are what I find to be the 3 surprising ways that lowering your car use can improve health.

1. Built-In Movement. You don’t actually have to try to move on those days when you park the car for a long period of time and use other methods of transportation to get to your destinations. Even if you take your car, if you decide to park it really far from the doors of the places you are headed (sporting event, friend’s house, shopping center), you’re automatically going to get more physical activity than you would when you just roll right up to the door. If you take things one step further (ha!), you could leave it at home and use a bike or walk. Don’t have a bike? See if your city has a bike share. You could just park your car nearby the bike share hub and return to it at the end of your bike rental period. Or, take public transport to the bike share location. You will likely be walking a bit to and from the public transport station, so even if you’re still in a vehicle for a while, your body is benefiting from additional walking along with the bike-riding. Do this once a week, and all of a sudden your physical activity level has gone up without a single trip to the gym or a scheduled run.

2. Removing the Unhealthy “yes”. Also known as making mindful choices. This one I definitely didn’t see coming. If it’s the day you choose to use your car less, and someone asks you to do something, what do you do? Sometimes people ask me about this conundrum, and on their face I can see the panic. I’m not sure if it’s that whole fear of missing out issue, or a sense of obligation that so many of us have without really investigating why we feel that way. All I know is that when I starting having to actually ask myself if I wanted to do something, a whole new world opened up. It turns out that when I had a car that I used constantly, I’d say yes just because I could. Could I volunteer at that 5K? Sure — why not? Could I run an errand for someone between two tightly scheduled appointments? Well, I guess so. Could I take someone’s 6 kids to the park for them while they were at the dentist for 5 hours, since after all I am heading there with my kid anyway? Um…okay! Now, it doesn’t mean that I mind running errands or doing favors or volunteering *all* of the time. It just means that when I’m given the opportunity to think about the effort it would take to do something that might be several miles away, or a situation where I’d need to take a load of stuff with me….is it important enough to have to figure out how to make it work? Do I need to rent a car? Can I do that with a bike? Is public transportation an option? If halfway through this list of options I just happen to realize that saying yes to this activity is going to cause me a whole lot of stress and possibly derail my plan to take care of myself — then maybe I should just say no. Saying no is so beneficial to our health I can’t even begin to name the reasons. That’s an article for another day.

3. Better Relationships. So this might be the one that was the biggest surprise to me. When I am walking or riding my bike with my friends and family members, we have conversations that are much deeper than when someone is driving and trying to pay attention to the road. For example, husband and I have extensive conversations while we walk to our destinations. Not to mention the topics that my daughter brings up on a daily basis that we’d never have the chance to discuss if I were dropping her off somewhere in a car. Walking her to her activities is so much less stressful when I’m not asking her to stop talking to me because I just missed my exit and now need to backtrack. Not to mention that I don’t have to pretend I’m listening and do the “Uh-huh” thing while I’m navigating a parking lot. Or, be actually listening and then hear a pinging noise that means I was a little closer to that curb than I realized. Not that that has ever happened. Ahem. But anyway, the point is that having close, meaningful relationships supports our health by helping us feel a part of a community. It also offers an outlet for those stressful situations that happen in life by reminding us that we have safe places with safe people who will support us when things get tough.

Are you one of those folks who have been thinking about using a car less, and then think, “But I could never do that.”? I have news for you — yes, you could. It’s easier than you think. And I can show you how. Feel free to reach out to me for more information about how this could work.

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