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Health Advice for Long-haul Commuters

Posted July. 21, 2008 03:38,   


Kim Mi-jeong, a 34-year-old office worker, commutes to and from her work by subway for a combined three hours every day, after she began working at a company located near Hongik University Subway Station in northwestern Seoul a year ago. She lives in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, which is adjacent to the southeast corner of Seoul. Long-haul commuting over a year gave her a chronic pain in her shoulders and neck.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 3.4 million Americans spend over three hours a day commuting. The number more than doubled during the last decade. These people are called “extreme commuters.”

The situation is not very different in Korea. The number of people for whom it takes over 1.5 hours to get to work increased from 315,823 in 1995 to 497,975 in 2000 and to 531,531 in 2005, according to the National Statistical Office.

○ Raise heels when standing

Many commuters who take the subway or a bus play games or watch moving pictures on their cell phone or portable media player (PMP). Others listen to the music using earphones or read books. These activities might be helpful in killing time but could also harm your eyes, ears or even neck.

Watching something in a static position could particularly strain your neck. When reading a book or watching PMP, straighten up your neck as much as possible and put 30 centimeters of distance between your eyes and the image. Twist your neck to the left and right at least once every 20 minutes to relax your neck muscle.

Turn your head to the left and pause for five seconds while sitting up or standing. Do the same to the right. Then bend your head to make your chin touch your collarbone and pause for five seconds. When you feel tired, do not lay your head down. Lean backward and rest by putting your head on the chair.

Those who are standing usually hold books or PMPs with one hand and handles with the other, and put their heads down. This makes them feel even more tired than those who are sitting. When you are standing, stretch your body by raising your heels up and down slowly.

Reading a book or using a portable device in a moving train or bus requires the eyes work harder to focus than usual. These could fatigue your eyes. Blink your eyes from time to time and watch somewhere distant in every 20 or 30 minutes to prevent eye fatigue.

Extended standing without moving could make your veins enlarged and twisted. The best way to prevent varicose veins is to reduce the time that you stand still. If it is unavoidable, however, tense your leg muscles and then relax repeatedly. Leave your legs crossed for a long time or wearing tight pants also impair blood circulation.

○ Prepare water and first-aid kit

Kim Seong-hyeon, a 42-year-old office worker who lives in Goyang City, Gyeonggi Province, commutes to his office located some 40 kilometers away in Songpa, Seoul, by bicycle. It helped improve his health to ride a bicycle for 1.5 hours every morning and evening. When he first started this, however, he almost gave up due to a severe pain in his entire body.

If you are a newly starting bicycle commuter, you should warm up before you start. In particular, you should warm up your shoulders and back before getting on the bicycle, since you are going to use them a lot. Your knees and ankles do not need separate warming up. Riding slowly for the first five minutes will be enough. Beginners may stop in the middle to take some rest for five-10 minutes.

Safety is also important. Find out if there are any bicycle-only lanes between your house and your work. Should you ride on ordinary roads, put a luminous sticker on your bicycle to prevent an accident.

Avoid riding a bicycle when it rains. Roads, if not designed for bicycles, get very slippery and accident-prone.

When the weather is as hot as these days, bring some water to hydrate yourself. Having a first-aid kit is a good idea in case you get hurt. A safety helmet, knee and wrist support and a dustproof mask will also make your riding safer.

(Advice from Jin Yeong-su, director of Sports Medicine Center at Asan Medical Center, Nam Hui-seung, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at Kangdong Sacred Heart Hospital, and Seo Dong-won, president of Barunsesang Hospital)