Eating a healthy diet, proper spinal hygiene, taking vitamin supplements, keeping your weight under control and stress management are all part of an overall wellness lifestyle that, if followed, results in a longer, healthier and pain-free life. Here are some basic tips to help you maintain a healthier, more vibrant body.
Poor posture creates a lot of stress on your spine and chronic muscle tension, leading to pain and stiffness. This happens because the weight of your upper body must be supported by your back muscles instead of the bones of your spine. The further your posture deviates from normal, the greater the stress on your back and the more pain that you will experience.
To illustrate this idea, think about carrying a briefcase. If you had to carry your briefcase with your arms outstretched in front of you, it would not take long before the muscles of your shoulders would be completely exhausted. This is because carrying the briefcase far away from the center of your body and places an undue stress on your shoulder muscles. If you held the same briefcase down at your side, your muscles would not fatigue as quickly because the briefcase is closer to the center of your body and the weight is, therefore, supported by the bones of the skeleton, rather than the muscles.
A simple exercise to improve your posture is called the Wall Posture Exercise. To do this exercise, simply find a flat wall. Rest your back against the wall and scoot your heels, shoulders and head back until the touch the wall. Holding this posture, step away from the wall and try to hold this posture as long as you can while you go about your day.
Reduce Your Stress
Modern life is full of pressure, stress and frustration. Worrying about your job security, being overworked, driving in rush-hour traffic, arguing with your spouse – all these create stress. In Australia, recent workers’ compensation statistics demonstrate a reduced incidence of most categories of work related injuries between 1996-1997 and 2002-2003. However, mental health disorders have increased by 32%, of which ‘mental stress’ is the most prevalent workers compensation claim.
You may feel physical stress as the result of too much to do, not enough sleep, a poor diet or the effects of an illness. Stress can also be mental: when you worry about money, a loved one’s illness, retirement, or experience an emotionally devastating event, such as the death of a spouse or being fired from work.
However, much of our stress comes from less dramatic everyday responsibilities. Obligations and pressures which are both physical and mental are not always obvious to us. In response to these daily strains your body automatically increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles. This response is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to a high-pressure situation.
After decades of research, it is clear that the negative effects associated with stress are real. Although you may not always be able to avoid stressful situations, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the effect that stress has on your body. The first is relaxation. Learning to relax doesn’t have to be difficult. You can learn about specific techniques for stress reduction or ask your chiropractor for further advice.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Most people know that excessive body weight contributes to the development of a number of conditions, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and colon cancer. However, it may also be a major contributing factor for the development of low back pain. The spine is designed to carry a certain amount of body weight. When it is exposed to the excess pressure of being overweight, the spine becomes stressed and, over time, can suffer structural damage. Being overweight significantly contributes to symptoms associated with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), degenerative disc disease (DDD), spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.
In addition to back pain, those who are overweight may suffer from fatigue, as well as difficulty breathing and shortness of breath during short periods of exercise. If the fatigue and shortness of breath causes one to avoid activity and exercise, then this can indirectly lead to back pain as lack of exercise contributes to many common forms of back pain.
If you are currently overweight and suffer from low back pain, talk to your doctor about effective ways to lose weight. Not only will your back pain improve, but you will decrease your risk of most major degenerative diseases at the same time.
Sleep on a Good Mattress
Good health and sleep are closely linked. Just as we improve our eating habits for better health, we should also improve our sleep habits. Sleep debt is a costly problem in our society, both fiscally and physically. Sleep should be a priority and not just a negotiable need determined by our busy schedules. Good sleep not only reduces costly back problems but also helps to prepare us for a more productive, alert and safe day ahead.
Here are some tips to help you select the proper mattress for you:
Personal preference should ultimately determine what mattress to purchase. Any mattress that helps someone sleep without pain and stiffness is the best mattress for that individual. There is no single mattress that works for all people with low back pain.
Find a mattress with sufficient back support to reduce low back pain. A good mattress should provide support while allowing for the natural curves and alignment of the spine. Medium-firm mattresses usually provide more back pain relief than firm mattresses.
Know when it’s time to get a new mattress. If an old mattress sags visibly in the middle, it is probably time to purchase a new one. Putting boards under a sagging mattress is only a short-term fix and may cause more back problems and low back pain in the long run.
Drink More Water
Water is the single-most abundant nutrient in the body, accounting for around 60-65% of your total weight. It is also the least forgiving of all the nutrients you consume. You can survive for weeks without food, but for only a couple of days without water. Water is responsible for the transport of nutrients, oxygen and waste products, as well as for regulating your body temperature and serving as the medium in which all of your body’s chemical reactions take place. Most people do not drink enough pure clean water.
Drinking an adequate amount of clean water every day is one of the most overlooked, but simplest ways of keeping your body healthy. Water is used to help the body cleanse itself of toxins and metabolic waste. Although drinking water has become more popular over the past several years, many people still do not consume enough water. Instead, they drink coffee, tea, juices and soft drinks and figure that they get enough fluids. It is true that when you drink these things you are consuming water. However, along with the water, you are also consuming a lot of other stuff that the body will need to ultimately eliminate, so the potential beneficial effect of the water is somewhat negated. To make matters worse, drinks that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, actually cause more water loss than the amount of water they contain, resulting in a net loss of water.
Ideally, the average person should consume around ten cups of water per day, or just over a half gallon. Some of this water is found in the food and beverages you consume, so you don’t have to drink an entire half-gallon of water every day. An easy way to accomplish this is to buy a 1.5 liter bottle of water from the local grocery store and to drink that amount of water every day. If you exercise heavily, you may have to drink two of those 1.5 liter bottles of water each day. By drinking enough water, you will be helping your body to remain healthy. It is by far the cheapest health insurance you can buy.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
People know that they should eat more fruit and vegetables in their diet, but most people don’t do it. It seems lately that the four major food groups of the Australian diet have gone from dairy, fruits and vegetables, grains, and meat to sugar, fat, salt and caffeine. Because of the easy availability of fast foods and snack foods, we have lost our taste for fruits and vegetables; especially vegetables. It is not uncommon for many people to go for weeks without consuming a single serving of fresh vegetables. This is not good.
The human body evolved with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and is dependent on many of the compounds unique to plant foods in order to operate correctly. If you don’t consume enough of these plant compounds, your energy level will suffer along with your overall health. Most people are shocked at how much better they feel when they cut down on the fast foods and snack foods and increase their fruit and vegetable intake.
Increasing your consumption of fruits and vegetables is an important way to improve your overall health. The key is to make it part of your lifestyle – to make it a new habit.
Cut Down on Sugar
Australians consume, on average, around 40kg of refined sugar per person per year – more than is considered healthy. This is equivalent to a daily intake of 22 teaspoons sugar; and provides some 440 calories or 1840 kilojoules each day – a significant amount in weight control terms. Cutting this intake by at least half would be reasonable and worthwhile. As hard as this may be to believe, consider the following facts:
- A 12 oz. can of Pepsi™ contains 10 teaspoons of sugar
- A 2 oz. package of candy contains 11 teaspoons of sugar
- A 16 oz. cup of lemonade contains 13 teaspoons of sugar
- A cup of Frosted Flakes™ contains 4 teaspoons of sugar
This high level of sugar intake is very unhealthy and contributes to obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease due to elevated triglycerides, kidney stones, dental caries, chronic tiredness and reactive hypoglycemia. Decreasing your sugar intake is as simple as avoiding foods which are high in refined sugars, such as soft drinks, candy, cake and donuts, as well as most condiments.
When you purchase sweetened food, look for products that are sweetened with apple juice rather than sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Take a Multivitamin
Many people don’t think that they need to take vitamin supplements because, after all, the human body did not evolve to need supplements – as long as you eat a balanced diet, you can get everything that your body needs, right? While it is certainly true that people living a thousand years ago did not have multivitamins, they also did not have thousands of tons of toxic chemicals being pumped into their environment every year; they were not exposed to a constant man-made electromagnetic field from powerlines and cell phones; they did not eat highly processed foods that contained artificial colors, flavors and preservatives; they were not sedentary; and they were not under constant stress at work and at home. Our bodies were simply not designed for a fast-paced, high-stress, highly processed lifestyle.
The reality is that we need to give our body some help in order to stay healthy in the world today. That’s where supplements come in. Supplements help to ensure that your body gets all of the extra vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and probiotics necessary to function the way it should.
If you are a smoker, you are sick of hearing this, but…
it is REALLY important that you stop smoking!
Smoking degrades the collagen of your skin, causing premature wrinkling, destroys the cells inside your lungs, promotes heart disease, cataracts and cancer. Because of the oxidizing radicals released into the blood stream it can also contribute to back pain by dehydrating the spinal discs.
Bone is a living tissue dependent on the functions and support provided by the other body systems. When these systems are not able to perform normally, bone is unable to rebuild itself. The formation of bone is particularly influenced by physical exercise and hormonal activity, both of which are adversely affected by cigarette smoking.
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and increases the level of harmful substances, such as carbon monoxide. In addition, nicotine causes a constriction of the small blood vessels that feed your spinal discs, shutting down their nutrient supply. Over time, the loss of normal blood supply leads to your discs becoming dehydrated and they begin to degenerate. Smoking is also known to cause an increase in estrogen loss in women who are perimenopausal or postmenopausal, which can result in a loss of bone density and increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
There is no question that it is difficult to quit smoking. Many people who have quit say that it was the hardest thing they have ever done. But it is not impossible. People do it all the time. If you currently smoke and want to quit, there are a number of effective medical programs that can help you. Some people have also found complimentary therapies, such as hypnosis, to be helpful in quitting smoking.