Whether traveling by cramped Manhattan subway or carpooling in California’s gridlock traffic, the 26 minutes—on average—that Americans spend getting to work doesn’t need to be time wasted. You can maximize your ride time while benefiting your health and well-being with these six ideas:
1. Go Back to School
Tired of the radio morning show drone as you sit in traffic? Turn the radio off and learn something new with free college courses from iTunes U. This campus never sleeps, so you can listen anytime, anywhere to leading professors from top universities like Stanford and Harvard. For subway rides, try shorter episodes of the TED Radio Hour podcast, during which TEDTalks’ speakers focus on meaningful topics like success, tolerance and how to spot a liar. Bonus: Your newfound knowledge will make office water cooler talk all the more interesting.
2. Learn a Foreign Language
Instead of scanning your Facebook feed—again—use your bus or train time to master a foreign language. Duolingo’s free smartphone application uses games, bite-sized lessons and adaptable modules to make learning a new tongue a breeze. Pick from 29 languages, and in no time at all you’ll be greeting fellow commuters with “Kon’nichiwa” or “Bonjour.”
3. Get Fit
From boosting happiness and productivity to lowering your blood pressure and building muscle, the benefits of exercise are robust. Bike, run or walk to work, and get your daily fitness dose without hitting the gym. Even if you can’t bike or walk to work every day, spend just one day a week commuting sans car or subway and net health benefits while saving fuel and money. Try a bike share for affordable bike rentals in most major cities. If you can’t walk or bike your entire commute because of the distance, get off the bus or train a few stops early to add walking time to your route.
4. Zen Out
Your ride to work doesn’t need to stress you out. Instead, make it the most relaxing part of your day by using deep breathing techniques or a free mindfulness app like Headspace. Meditating on a crowded subway car may sound impossible, but if you bring along good-quality pair of headphones and close your eyes, you might be surprised by how much you can tune out. Choose a meditation routine that’s slightly shorter than your ride and arrive at the office feeling fresh and focused.
5. Set Goals
Big-city gridlock traffic and subway waits seem to keep growing. Instead of getting upset about delays, spend the extra time working on personal development. Use your smartphone to create a daily to-do list, set weekly goals or read a self-development book covering skills you want to gain. Use Audible for easy on-the-go listening if driving into the office.
6. Clear the Clutter
Skip Candy Crush, and start your day with a clean inbox by purging unimportant emails while commuting. Better yet, spend the bus or subway ride signing up for Unroll.Me. This free web service quickly unsubscribes you from mailing lists and lumps mass emails into a single daily message—making your overwhelming inbox easier to manage than ever.