Good posture, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle -- believe it or not, all of these things are important factors in avoiding back pain. It can be difficult to make the changes you need to get healthy, but don't worry, I've got your back! These tips and links will help you get on the right track!
Be Posture Perfect
Posture may seem like an obvious factor in preventing back pain, but fixing it isn't always so simple. Bad posture is a tough habit to break. These tips can help keep you on the up and up.
1. Listen to your mother!
You probably rolled your eyes as a kid when Mom told you to sit up straight -- but she was right! Slouching puts extra weight on the spine, and the muscles and ligaments in your back strain to support that extra weight. Most of us are hunching over our desks and phones, too. If you sit up straight, you can avoid that strain on your muscles -- and you'll make Mom happy! It's a win-win situation.
2. "Roll" into better posture.
Need some help with correcting your posture? Shoulder rolls are a great way to improve your posture, and you can even do them while sitting at your desk! All you have to do is slowly raise your shoulders for a count of five, then slowly lower them for another count of five. Finally, squeeze your shoulder blades as if you were trying to make them touch, and hold for another five seconds. That's it! Repeat at least seven times, and aim to do as many as 50 a day.
3. Don't let high fashion hurt you.
Unfortunately, a lot of the things that are in style can do quite a number on your posture. High heels make your body tilt forward, taking the spine out of its natural alignment. You aren't necessarily better off with flat shoes like Uggs or flip-flops, though; both shoes can affect how you walk, which ultimately affects your posture. Also, opt for a cross-body handbag to evenly distribute the weight so your spine doesn't curve to one side. If you absolutely can't give up that oversized handbag, switch shoulders often to even it out.
Exercise The Right Way
It can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise regularly. The key to keeping up an exercise routine is to choose the exercises that fit your needs and provide the results you want. That way, you'll be more likely to keep it up in the long run.
1. Exercise while traveling? Yep, it's possible -- and you don't need a gym.
You do a lot of multitasking in your everyday life, so why not apply that to your exercise routine? The key here is to choose do-anywhere exercises that work multiple muscle groups at one time, like wall squats and bridges. The right exercises help to strengthen your core and the other muscles that help support your back. All you need is a few minutes and a little free space.
2. Not into high-impact exercise? Yoga or stretching might be for you.
Sometimes you just need to slow down and stretch out. A good stretch of the neck, shoulders, and back can help relieve the tension that's causing your back pain. Stretching the hips, glutes, and hamstrings can also do wonders for lower back pain. If you're looking for the added benefit of stress relief, give yoga a try. Yoga tends to be more popular with women, but several famous male athletes are known to practice yoga too. It worked for Lebron James, and it might work for you, too.
3. Know what NOT to do.
Exercise can help you if you're prone to back pain, as long as you do the right ones. On the other hand, if you do the wrong ones, you could make it harder on yourself. Sit-ups, leg lifts, forward bending, overhead lifting, and high impact exercise can all make your back pain worse than it was before, so it's best to find alternatives for these activities.
Healthy New You in 2015
Your everyday habits could be putting you at greater risk for back pain. Poor diet, a lack of sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to back pain. Not to worry, though -- these hacks can make it easier for you to get healthier.
1. Take it slow -- a few simple swaps can help you get on the right track.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away. Do some stretches while watching your favorite TV show instead of sitting on the couch. Swap whole milk for 2 percent or skim, mayo for mustard, or coffee and tea for water. None of this requires a lot of extra effort on your part, but all of these little positive changes can add up and motivate you to do even more to get healthy.
2. The best way to avoid unhealthy foods? Keep them out of reach!
You need a good diet to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to nourish the bones, muscles, and discs in the spine. It's difficult to make the right food choices sometimes, but if you don't have junk food easily available to you, you'll be less likely to go for it when you're hungry. Stock up on healthy foods and snacks instead.
3. Like Goldilocks, your mattress needs to be "just right."
The wrong mattress can leave you with back pain and disrupt your sleep, which can lower your pain tolerance. A mattress with the right balance of softness and firmness can support your back and improve your quality of sleep. Try out several mattresses, and find the one that's "just right" for you.
Let's make 2015 about a Healthy New You!
Happy & Healthy New Year!
Michael A. Gleiber, MD