Improving your posture is not only for looks. Posture has been absolutely linked to physical health such as better breathing, cognitive (memory) improvements, preventing falls through improving balance and even decreasing headaches and neck pain. I am currently completing my certification and awaiting my final examination on being a Certified Ergonomist. This is a specialist in designing proper workspaces to decrease injury. Along with this training, there was so much education on proper posture. To begin with, let’s work on the CHIN TUCK. I fondly refer to this as the REVERSE CHICKEN because when chickens eat, they push their beaks forward. Unfortunately, many of us live with our “beaks” or noses jutting forward. This puts too much pressure and compression on the base of your skull and the top of your spine. To do this exercise, literally tuck your chin slightly downward and pull back towards your spine. If done properly, you will get a double chin during the exercise. You will feel a slight stretch in the back of your head. Hold this position for 5 counts and repeat up to 20 times. Do this sequence as many times per day as you can…the more the better. If done often and long enough, this postural correction will become second nature. Try to give yourself reminds throughout the day to keep yourself in this neutral posture. Practice during work hours on the computer and while driving. I have found that we will catch ourselves in the chicken position with our “beaks” forward often and this is a great reminder to correct our head posture.
Another posture corrector is to PULL OUR SHOULDER BLADES BACK AND DOWNWARD. So many of us were taught to pull our shoulders back but this is only half true. Pulling our shoulders back and down is really important. The downward pull works the latissimus dorsi muscle which is a very important postural muscle. Pull the area between your shoulder blades towards the spine or bra hook area and then pull both shoulder blades towards your waist or belt line. Hold this position for 5 counts and repeat up to 20 times.
As a chiropractor, you may think that I preach strong abs 24/7. Well, surprise! I am not a fan of overworking your abdominal muscles. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say no ab work. Simply do not focus on the front and forget about your back side. I am affectionately known as a “butt girl”. Take no offense. I am referring to the gluteal muscles located on your back side. I believe they are an important key to preventing and treating lower back problems and improving your posture. So by all means, work those ab muscles, BUTT don’t forget about your glutes.
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Standing in front of your couch or a chair, with your arms crossed in front of you, lean your butt back slightly and lower down to just barely touch your glutes to the seat. Then stand right back up. Again, arms crossed, lean your butt back slightly and lower down to just touch your seat and quickly come right back up. Use your buttock muscles to stand up. Contract them slightly. You may be surprised how difficult this will be. Repeat 10-15 times. Do this series several times throughout the day.
Stand with good posture and hold on to the back of a chair or counter top. Take the weight off one leg and pulse it back, keeping your knee straight. Contract your buttock area when you pulse the leg backwards. Repeat this motion 10-15 times on each leg. Make sure you are contracting your buttocks and do not pull it too far backwards. This would arch your lower back and potentially cause harm. Do this series several times throughout the day, especially if you sit a lot.
To make this exercise slightly more challenging, add a resistance band around your ankles. The diameter should be approximately 12 inches around.
One of the most common questions patients ask is whether to apply ice or heat to a musculoskeletal pain or injury. Most importantly is what feels better and works best for you, however here are a few suggestions.
ICE: Typically, ice is used for acute or new conditions. This stops the bleeding, swelling and bruising. When using ice, always wrap it in a wet towel and never place the ice or ice pack directly on your skin. This could result in an ice burn, that looks and feels exactly like a heat burn. Use the ice on your body for 20 minutes and off for 20 minutes. Do this for approximately 2-3 days.
HEAT: Heat should be used several days following a flare up or with chronic, on-going stiffness. Moist heat is always best. Otherwise, as your body sweats with the dry heat, you will be dehydrating the muscle. Use heat for 20 minutes per hour. Never use heat longer than 20 minutes and please never fall asleep with a heating pad.
The most common nutrition complaint I hear from patients is they don’t have enough time to cook or eat healthy. Sorry to burst your bubble, but after reading this article you will have NO EXC– USE! Juicing and blending are the easiest ways to bombard yourself with quick, healthy and easy to digest nutrition. Consider these drinks “supplements in a glass”.
Blending is when you literally blend your ingredients whole. Simply wash your produce and toss in a blender with liquid such as water, unflavored/unsweetened coconut water, almond milk or coconut milk. Blend until smooth and drink! Most of us already own a blender, so starting this healthy habit is easy. In my opinion, a Vitamix is the world’s greatest blender. This brand is so powerful it literally liquefies your ingredients without leaving any chunks behind. Vitamix is expensive, but worth every penny. My brother still uses my parents’ Vitamix from the 1970s! The nutrition key to making smoothies is to choose twice as many vegetables as fruits. Too many patients choose fruit only smoothies. Although fruits are high in fiber and nutrients, they are also very high in fructose. This is a natural sugar that breaks down into glucose, and if not used right away, it gets stored in the liver and eventually in fat cells. Choose lower sugar fruits such as berries, green apples and white pears. Bananas are very high in sugar, so use sparingly. Vegetables are lower in calories and higher in protein and fiber. The absolute best vegetables to blend are dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale and swiss chard. Although they will make your smoothie green, I promise it will not taste “green”. In fact, the greens will take on whatever fruit or flavor you add. I encourage you to also add a healthy fat. Contrary to popular belief, not all fat is bad! Healthy fats aid in the absorption of nutrients and allow our bodies to function better. The good fats I prefer are oils such as coconut, hemp, fish or flax. You can also choose an avocado or raw nuts. For an extra boost of omega three fatty acids and protein, include seeds like chia, flax and hemp. I love to add Standard Process Complete protein powder for a more thorough meal.
Juicing is when you place your fruits or vegetables in a device called a juicer. This extracts the liquid and removes the skin, pulp and fiber. The benefit of juicing is it takes a lot of produce to make a glass of juice, therefore it is loaded with nutrition. Unfortunately, it is also missing the fiber which is essential for keeping cholesterol lowered and improving digestion (aka bowel movements). However, less fiber and bulk makes it easier on your digestive system, so for those looking to give your digestion a rest and really boost your nutrition, juicing is the best choice. Another challenge with juicing is it requires you to purchase a juicer, which can range from $100-$500 and even the most expensive models are difficult to clean.
My choice is to blend in the morning for a high fiber, high protein, good fat filled breakfast on the go. I use a container with a lid and straw and drink my smoothie on the way to work. This starts my day full and ready to move, but not feeling heavy. I like to juice mid-day for a pick me up. Whatever you choose, make this a daily ritual during the week. I love knowing I had so many healthy nutrients. For me, I feel less guilty on the weekend when I cheat and order my favorite breakfast of pancakes and bacon! Blending and juicing floods your body with ready to use nutrition. If you don’t like the taste of one, try something different. The right combination is very enjoyable. Give it a try! You really have no excuse!
Most of us think of “core strength” as the collection of muscles that help stabilize the spine. As true as that is, I like to use the term for something far different. I think of our “core strength” as our inner determination, our personal power, values and mental strength. Just as your physical muscles hold you and protect your frame, your inner core also holds and supports you emotionally. In my own life, a willingness and desire to see things differently has been invaluable. So “core strength” ALL THE WAY!
Stress is commonly referred to as the body’s fight or flight response. This is handled by a part of our body called the Sympathetic Nervous System. I like to think of it as our gas pedal. When you’re busy during the day with to-do lists, high performance demands, deadlines and multi-tasking, your gas pedal is floored to the ground. Although this is acceptable at certain times, it becomes dangerous and unhealthy when your entire day is “pedal to the metal”.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the relaxation response that your body performs to repair from the hectic pace that you’ve set during the day. This would be the brake that you apply when the car needs to slow down. This system is typically activated at rest and during sleep.
The problem is many of us spend 17 hours with the gas pedal floored and expect to achieve balance with maybe 7 hours of sleep. And the sleep we get is not really restful. Many of us are tossing and turning, thinking and rehashing, planning and anticipating, all throughout the night. We awake still tired and foggy. We reach for the shot of caffeine and sugar filled snacks for a boost. In an attempt to regain sanity, many will succumb to sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication and alcohol. Although for some people, these may be necessary, for others these are nothing more than temporary fixes that lead to a whole host of side effects. What happens even to the best luxury car when the gas pedal has been floored and then you slam on the brake? Smoke! This is not a good sign. How do you think our bodies deal with this? Illness.
Science has shown that expressing GRATITUDE during periods of stress and anxiety can activate the relaxation centers of the brain. This is also very helpful before bedtime. Another tool is BREATHING exercises. Breathe from the chest to the belly, stopping momentarily at the heart to give thanks and send love. MEDITATION for only minutes can also reach this place of balance. The key to improving this vicious cycle is to practice MINDFULNESS throughout the day. Respect yourself and be aware that you are needed. Practice a few of these ideas and see if you can learn to coast during the day.
Drinking adequate water is so easy to forget. The recommended amount of water we should intake per day is 50% of our body weight in ounces. If you weigh 180 pounds, you should consume 90 ounces of water per day. If you sweat excessively due to work or exercise, drink even more. This recommendation is for pure water, not any liquid such as juice or tea. Adding electrolytes to your water, in the form of sports drinks, can be beneficial during heavy exercise. When we don’t hydrate enough, we can suffer from dehydration. The symptoms of dehydration include: headaches, brain fog or unclear thinking, fatigue, chills and heart palpitations. Be aware that dehydration can be life threatening if untreated.
Meditation is such a buzz word these days. I personally find it extremely helpful to quiet my busy, overactive mind. After a short trip into “emptiness”, I gain a broader perspective on a situation and can understand things much more clearly. It helps me gain control on the reality and scope of a situation versus getting twisted into part of the whole.
Ideally, experts recommend meditation for at least 15 minutes a day. I agree, but also use meditation for smaller moments of time throughout my day. First, find a place that is quiet and free from distractions such as TV, kids, pets and cell phones. Next, sit on the floor with your spine straight. Cross your legs and get as comfortable as possible. I like to use a small pillow under my buttocks. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through the nose. Fill up your belly and feel your stomach get fuller. Exhale, first squeezing the belly and eventually squeezing the air out of your chest. Repeat at your own pace. If you try too hard, you will get light headed. Don’t force this. Rather, allow the breath to lead you, instead of you leading it. Some people benefit by placing a hand on their belly to feel it swell with the inhale and sink in with the exhale. Relax your body. When you focus on the breath, your mind will not be able to focus on other issues. As this breathing style becomes more comfortable, you may find your mind wandering to other issues and losing your “emptiness”. Simply come back to the breath and you will be back on track.
Stay present. Stay in the NOW. Keep coming back when you wander. Make your presence present! That which we place our attention on becomes our attention. Therefore, a place of emptiness is a great place to empty the problems, difficulties and challenges that are upsetting us. A good meditation session may help uncover answers to issues you’ve been searching for. It’s amazing that from the quietness, answers flow. Some people use meditation as a tool to go deeper into themselves. It can give direction to your life.
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Join me and my staff as we tweak our health to THRIVE NOT SURVIVE. Enroll online or in our office for this series of classes that will begin in January. Class topics include:
- Muscle and Joint Health: Foods and supplements to decrease inflammation and muscle spasms and improve hydration and flexibility.
- Better Gut Health: Better food choices and the most expensive supplements won’t matter if your body is not absorbing them from the inside out.
- Use It or Lose It: Why exercise is a critical anti-aging tool and how to safely incorporate it into your busy lifestyle.
- The Nutritious Kitchen: How to read labels and make better choices in the grocery store.
- Organic Foods: Hype, Fad or Lifesaving?
- Improve your body and mind with breathing, meditation and yoga.
- Hormone Function: How hormones work and how to improve them naturally.
The most common excuse I hear from patients is “I don’t have time to exercise”. I am about to make you feel very guilty, because here is a one minute exercise that will leave you refreshed and relaxed.
Take a deep breath in. Feel your belly swell and get larger as you inhale. Don’t worry about a flat stomach. Your belly should rise with your in breath. Put your hand on your stomach and feel it move back towards your spine with the exhale. Follow this rhythm a few slow times. Once you’re comfortable with this rhythm, try the inhale for a slow count of 5 with the exhale also for a slow count of 5. As this gets easier, try to lengthen the breath for counts of 10. If you’re really focusing on this, your mind will not be able to wander to your “to do” list. You won’t be able to vent and hit replay on any troubles you are going through. As the title of a country song says, JUST BREATHE. After a few cycles, start holding your breath for 5-10 second counts between the inhale and exhale. You will not get dizzy if you do this routine slowly.
This exercise can having amazing healthy benefits and literally takes a minute or two. You can physically decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. It can be done anywhere and no one will even know you are exercising. You can even do this in bed, right before sleep. When you get really comfortable with this practice, truly add the sense of smelling roses with the inhale. You will be amazed at the good feeling this simple and quick exercise will leave you with.